UCLA School of Nursing Health Center at the Union Rescue Mission

Delivering Care Where It's Needed Most

In 1983, the Union Rescue Mission in downtown L.A. contacted the UCLA School of Nursing with an intriguing request: Would the school be interested in providing nursing services to the homeless staying at the mission?  At the time, little was known about this population, much less the kinds of health problems they experienced.  It wasn’t known whether this population would even seek healthcare at a clinic.

Today, the Clinic has become a national model for its delivery of health care to the poor and homeless. It is one of the oldest and largest clinics of its kind in the country, and the only shelter-based health clinic in LA that provides care for men, women and children.

Since its founding, the clinic has provided care in more than 250,000 patient visits, averaging more than 6,000 visits per year.  Even with the passing of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), many still struggle to access to care.  The men, women and children struggling to survive on the streets often face more complex medical issues and untreated chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure. Simple things get out of control because these individuals don’t access care until the need becomes urgent.

Changing Services to Meet Changing Need

As the needs and population have changed, so have the services. For example, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of women, children and families. When a family is struggling to survive, well-baby exams, vaccinations and back-to-school screenings fall off the radar. The Center now provides evening cliinical services, which has been a boon to families when their children need care after regular hours. Clinicians are also finding that many of the mothers have very poor life skills and low self-esteem, and they are able to receive support and comfort from caring clinic staff.   

The Center has become a valuable teaching environment where nursing students gain experience providing care for the poor and underserved.

The treatment the homeless receive at the Center gives them hope for a better, healthier life and puts them on a path that may lead them out of Skid Row. The clinic takes people who have been marginalized in the healthcare system, and provides them with a total well-being approach to putting their lives back together.

The Future of the Center

The UCLA School of Nursing Clinic at the Union Rescue Mission does amazing work—steadfastly providing care with compassion to the neediest of the needy on Skid Row with minimal outside assistance and little recognition—but will be unable to continue without significant additional external funding.  For the past several years the Center been a sub-awardee of the North East Valley Health Corporation, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), and is now seeking approval for billing.  However, even with this external support, the Center has been operating with a shortfall of approximately $600,000 per year which is currently covered entirely through the School of Nursing budget, with the exception of a few small annual grants.  The School of Nursing is seeking philanthropic support from individuals and foundations so that we may continue to do the work that we do—provide much needed care to Los Angeles’ growing population of homeless and disadvantaged individuals and families, and provide an important teaching opportunity for our nursing students.

Health care is an essential part of this mission. While it is important to get people off the street and give them shelter and food, many of our guests have a lot of medical complications due to their time on the streets. And these issues, if not addressed, can hold them back from allowing them to move out of homelessness. The care provided by the clinic over the past 33 years has really made a difference in people’s lives. — Reverend Andy Bales, Chief Executive Officer. URM