Apr 11, 2023
Bigger Vision: Community Partner Highlight
On a rainy day in Athens, a white van and a tent sit outside Bigger Vision in Athens. People are flocking to the van and the tent—some from inside the Bigger Vision building and others walk in from the street.
The big white van and the tent mean one thing—the Augusta University/University of Georgia Medical Partnership’s Athens Free Clinic is on site providing free health care to those in need.
The Medical Partnership’s Athens Free Clinic joined forces with Bigger Vision in 2022 to make the shelter one of the campus’s newest Community and Population Health (CPH) sites.
Dr. Laurel Murrow, associate professor of medicine at the Partnership, leads the team of second-year students who go to Bigger Vision and said taking the mobile clinic to the shelter made sense.
“The whole idea is that the mobile clinic can go out into the community where it is needed. We know from seeing patients in traditional clinics that our homeless population has a hard time accessing care. Many people don’t have a car or a way to a clinic, so if you can bring the clinic to them, it eliminates that barrier,” said Murrow. “We were originally seeing guests in a room inside Bigger Vision, and it wasn’t working well. Ever since we started taking the van, it’s been so much better because people see the van and the tents, and people just flock in.”
Bigger Vision was founded in 1998 when Ann Clark noticed the Salvation Army’s homeless shelter had an overflow of citizens standing outside each night. Clark then partnered with St. James United Methodist Church to host an overnight emergency overflow shelter. It was originally named the Community Overflow Shelter, but eventually became known as Bigger Vision.
Their goal is to provide shelter and assistance to those experiencing homelessness. Bigger Vision currently houses up to 35 guests per night, and they also have over 10,000 meals donated annually.
“We believe that safe, comfortable housing is a right that should be extended to all individuals, regardless of their race, age, religion, gender, or any other identifying factor,” said Ryan Hersh, executive director of Bigger Vision.
If someone needs a place to stay, they reserve a spot at the shelter via a call-in system at 4:00 pm each day. Guests receive a bed, homemade meal, showers or laundry on an alternating schedule, and breakfast in the morning.
Bigger Vision also offers their Abundant Life Program—a program designed to help those in homelessness seeking to obtain their GED and certified job skills training.
The alliance with the Medical Partnership allows Bigger Vision to now offer primary on-site health care (chronic disease management, acute care, counseling on prevention, screening tests) to their guests.
Murrow and her team of nine second-year medical students go to Bigger Vision every other Wednesday.
“The work at Bigger Vision is important because it provides a new way for our homeless neighbors to access primary care in the community,” said Murrow. “It can be challenging to make it to medical appointments under these circumstances, so this clinic comes to the patient.”
“Collaborating with Medical Partnership results in increased access to medical care for our guests,” said Hersh. “While Bigger Vision plays a small role in accomplishing this, we are grateful that our facility can be utilized for the doctors and students to meet with our guests and discuss their needs. Additionally, it is important to engage with our community partners in providing solutions to issues that our guests face, and working with the Athens Free Clinic has been the perfect fit.”
Murrow said they can also request labs from local hospitals and send prescriptions to a pharmacy of the patient’s choice.
“When the team is here, they can receive and respond to individuals as they arrive at the facility without the need for an extensive wait, mountains of paperwork, or referrals that might lead to dead ends,” said Hersh. “Guests who have met with physicians and students have secured new referrals, prescription refills, and information related to other local organizations that can respond to their medical needs.”
Murrow also recognizes the benefits that students receive from working with Bigger Vision as well.
“Our students have to problem solve when it’s not immediately known how you’re going to get care for somebody. Medicines can be expensive or maybe they don’t have a social worker,” she said. “They really have to solve problems on the fly.”
“The patients we see at Bigger Vision tend to be more complex than the cases we do within our school setting, so it’s giving us tools on how to implement the things that we are leaning.” said Grace Snuggs, a second-year medical student at the Partnership. “It’s giving us the chance to learn from different communities and understand different needs in Athens.”
Both Murrow and Hersh hope that by working with Bigger Vision, the students will have a better understanding of what the homeless population needs.
“Some students have had an inkling that they want to do primary care or they might want to work with underserved people. Now they get to do it and have experienced giving back to their community,” said Murrow.
“This provides the students with a deeper understanding of what this population goes through on a day-to-day basis when they aren’t being seen in a clinic setting, and how this might contribute to some of the medical issues they face,” said Hersh. “I’m hopeful that this broadens the compassionate nature of these students and compels them to advocate for this group in their personal lives and professional careers.”
The CPH team at Bigger Vision isn’t the only group giving back to Bigger Vision.
The Personalized Health and Lifestyle Medicine student interest group and the Office of Personalized Health and Well-being also stepped up to help those at Bigger Vision. The groups organized a food night where student and faculty volunteers prepared a meal and then served the food at the Bigger Vision Emergency Shelter.
The meal consisted of homemade chicken noodle soup, turkey noodle soup, crackers, and fresh fruit.
“Hopefully it’s building trust,” said Murrow. “Sometimes there is a lack of trust in the medical community. We’re real faces on the street, so hopefully that helps get their questions answered.”
Hersh said he is humbly grateful for this partnership.
“Working with the Medical Partnership has provided incredibly important care and resources to our guests and has helped improve their safety and comfort in the process,” he said. “Trust is difficult to build with many members of this population, and having this team here to help us build that has been incredibly helpful in ways we didn’t imagine.”
If you or someone you know needs a place to stay, please call Bigger Vision at (706) 340 – 6062 ext. 2 at 4:00 pm daily to reserve a bed for that evening.
For more about Bigger Vision, visit their website:
For more ways to support the work of the Athens Free Clinic, please visit the AU/UGA Medical Partnership website.