UT College of Nursing faculty member Mary Kollar takes healthcare to the city’s least advantaged residents.
It stands to reason that people who lack any one of life’s three basic survival requirements-food, clothing, and shelter-are probably going to have a hard time getting the healthcare they need, Kollar explains.
Thanks to service-minded people like Kollar, getting quality healthcare services to Knoxville’s homeless population is a little less difficult than it might be otherwise.
She works one day per week at the People’s Clinic in Knoxville’s warehouse district. Established in 1998 by Knoxville Inner-City Churches United for People (KICCUP) and operated by the Volunteer Ministry Center, the free clinic has provided medical and dental care and mental health services to thousands of patients.
Kollar began providing medical services there in 2000. In true volunteer fashion, others have joined her in taking healthcare to the streets.
"I bring students and sometimes other faculty members to see patients," says Kollar, who coordinates the family nurse practitioner concentration in the College of Nursing.
The more volunteers, the better-the demand for services at the People’s Clinic has increased by 40 percent since TennCare reform nearly two years ago. "A lot of our patients have a hard time accessing healthcare," Kollar says.
Often, the conditions that contribute to people becoming homeless-disabilities like mental illness, for example-also leave them unable to navigate the healthcare bureaucracy. As a result, homeless people frequently fall through the holes in society’s safety net when it comes to healthcare.
Ginny Weatherstone, executive director of the Volunteer Ministry Center, says Kollar has a wonderful ability to put those people at ease and make them feel welcome in the clinic.
"Mary’s gift is being able to meet street people where they are-street people who are addicts or prostitutes, people who are mentally ill-and help them reach a better place," she says.
A registered nurse, Kollar treats acute problems like colds and lice and manages conditions like allergies and asthma. Besides the ailments frequently seen at any healthcare clinic, foot problems are especially common among the People’s Clinic patients. As she says, "They are on their feet a lot, walking."
One man told her he had walked from Chattanooga to Knoxville, a distance of about 110 miles.
For those who live on the street, stability in any aspect of life is rare. But with her gift of time and her calm, soft-spoken manner, Kollar provides a stable, consistent presence in coordinating and providing healthcare services to the street-dwellers of Knoxville.