Responding to foot health needs of people experiencing homelessness: the role of a publicly funded community-based podiatry service
journal contributionposted on 23.06.2022, 06:26 authored by Robyn MullinsRobyn Mullins, RE Mannix, Nicole MarshallNicole Marshall, Virginia LewisVirginia Lewis
Background: People experiencing homelessness are known to suffer from poor health and can be reluctant to seek healthcare except in crisis. Foot and ankle problems are a concern; as well as causing discomfort and pain, they may escalate from a minor problem to a very serious one without timely and appropriate treatment. Little is known about the foot and ankle problems of people experiencing homelessness. This paper describes a podiatric service specifically for people experiencing homelessness, which includes a fixed site as well as outreach services. The service operates as part of the Homelessness Team program at Cohealth, a large community health service in Melbourne. Methods: The study used routinely collected data. Every person who was seen by the podiatrist in the Cohealth Homelessness Team in 2019, whether on site or on outreach, was included in the study (n = 295). Of these, 156 were attending for the first time and 139 were returning clients. People who used the service were predominantly rough sleeping (45.2%), with 32.2% in unstable or insecure housing and 22.6% recently housed. Results: Skin and nail pathologies (68.1%), inadequate footwear (51.9%) and biomechanical issues (44.1%) were the most common presentations. People sleeping rough were particularly likely to present with biomechanical issues (50.8%), acute wound care needs (17.4%) or traumatic injury (10.6%). Most people presented with more than one issue (mean = 2.4), and new clients (mean = 2.53) and those rough sleeping (mean = 2.69) had more issues than others. Outreach was the most effective way to reach clients in the most difficult circumstances (48.9% of those in unstable housing, 34.8% of rough sleepers). Most of the clients (81.4%) had connections with other services offered by Cohealth, such as social work or physiotherapy. Conclusions: This study demonstrated that reaching and intervening on foot and ankle problems of people experiencing homelessness who may not seek care on their own could be achieved through a publicly funded health service, using simplified pathways to care including outreach. In addition to the long- and short- term benefits of the immediate podiatric treatment, building trust and connections through footcare may provide an entry point into accepting other health and welfare services.