By Laine Zizka ’19
“We are getting pampered today,” one podiatry clinic guest remarked through a smile and thick New Orleans accent.
For Fort Worth, Texas residents experiencing homelessness, health care and compassion can be tragically hard to come by. In one initiative created by a TCU Nursing faculty member, they find both.
Guests fill each chair at five water stations as volunteers calmly wash their feet, rubbing them with sugar scrub or foot cream. They chat and tell stories before the guests get their nails trimmed with more care and attention.
It seems like a relaxing spa, and it is – designed for the needs of Fort Worth’s homeless population.
“Just by looking at their feet, you can tell a lot about a person,” said Emily Estes, a doctor of nursing practice student in TCU Nursing.
Feet are the last thing that many people think of, especially when it comes to those experiencing homelessness.
Since the spring of 2018, Kim Posey, an assistant professor of professional practice and director of TCU Nursing’s nurse practitioner program, partnered with True Worth Place to put together a podiatry clinic for the Fort Worth homeless population. True Worth Place is a day shelter and resource center that serves the Fort Worth community with health care, education, facilities, and case management.
It all began when a representative for True Worth Place came to Posey to express the need for a foot clinic.
“The podiatry clinic is modeled after [a] Nashville shelter nonprofit called Room in the Inn,” said Toby Owen, CEO for the Presbyterian Night Shelter and True Worth Place. “When I went there, I thought this would be wonderful if we ever had the opportunity … to do in Fort Worth.”
Despite not knowing the first thing about starting a podiatry clinic, Posey’s simple response was resolute:
“No, but we’ll figure it out,” Posey said.
The original plan was to have someone wash the feet of each guest, but Posey’s vision grew from solely foot washing to medical care. Local churches, including University Baptist Church and Pathway Church, joined the partnership and took over the spiritual foot washing.
“Giving them that personal touch of washing someone’s feet says, ‘you’re human,’” said Posey. “It gives a human touch.”
That human touch makes all the difference.
“Every single guest commented about how friendly and engaging our volunteers were, and how special this made them feel,” said Susan Delong, education coordinator at True Worth Place. “Not only were foot care things happening, but there were conversations about life, past experiences, family and places lived.”
Once a month, nurse practitioners, social workers and other members of the interprofessional health care team from universities across north Texas congregate at True Worth Place to trim nails and assess guests’ health. Not only does it provide a sense of dignity, but it allows them to be connected to medical care.
“It’s not just their feet,” Posey said. “They could be out of their blood pressure medicine or not have diabetes medicine or have ulcers on their feet.”
Owen said that being able to offer the medical component makes the clinic much more organized and impactful. The need is more prevalent in the homeless population than many people realize – and the foot clinic could be the answer to their prayers.
“They have to stand, they have to walk, they don’t have good footwear, they’re out in the elements, they can’t provide the hygiene that they need,” said Posey.
At the podiatry clinic, it’s easy to connect guests to medical services or even find a pair of shoes, socks or band aids – simple acts that can make all the difference. Even the language they use – calling each person a ‘guest’ – helps wash away the stigmas associated with homelessness and brings warmth.
After a massage and wash with foot scrubs and cream, the guests get their nails trimmed by a nursing professional or student. While they trim, they assess the feet and engage in conversation.
“Even though it’s just trimming and filing their nails, they are so grateful,” said Estes. “It’s kind of nice to see how much that impacts them and makes them feel better.”
Posey recounts an occasion in which one guest confided in her that they were suicidal. Moments like these confirm that it’s about more than just feet.
“There are a lot of needs that you don’t expect, because these people can really pour open their lives and just talk,” said Posey.
When providing medical care, a personal connection can be just as helpful as the foot assessment itself.
“It’s just a way for them to get to know people out there and know there are people who care how they’re doing,” Estes said. “A lot of them like to talk and just feel connected.”
With the clinic’s success, Estes is making guidelines to expand it across the Dallas-Fort Worth area and prove it is needed in the community. For Estes, it is a great capstone to her doctoral program and a skill to enhance her career.
“I think it kind of fell into [Posey’s] lap, so we are kind of figuring it out together,” said Estes. “The people at True Worth have been very kind and supportive and great and friendly and the people from the church have been very helpful and kind.”
Experiences such as these have forced Posey and Estes to confront their own biases.
“People are one crisis away – it could be any of us in that same situation,” said Posey. “Providing that human touch and conversation can help just get them in a good frame of mind and the resources to get them out of the hole they’re in.”
Delong believes that the True Worth Foot Clinic has positively impacted everyone involved. Not only are DNP students completing a capstone project, they’re gaining vital empathy that will allow them to become more effective care providers throughout their career.
“It is a humbling experience – sitting at the feet of our guests,” said Delong. “No one is better than the other. We all struggle to make it through life in some way or another but, at the end of the day, we are all just people.”
At the end of the day, the clinic stands as an example of True Worth Place’s and TCU’s shared values – a community of peace and help.