St. Anthony's Hospital Joins St. Petersburg Police to Take Health Care to the Homeless
On a cold, rainy Tuesday morning in January, Laury Sears and several other people huddled together under a large picnic shelter at Woodlawn Park in St. Petersburg.
Just then, David Hill, a registered nurse at St. Anthony’s Hospital, and Richard Targaszewski, an officer with the St. Petersburg Police Department, rode up in a police department Polaris 4x4 cart.
“Hi David,” Sears said as Hill walked over to the bench where she sat.
“Hi Laury,” Hill said cheerily. “How are you doing today?”
Sears, who has been living on the streets of St. Petersburg for about eight years, told him she was a little worried about her blood pressure. Hill walked back to the cart to get his portable blood pressure monitor. Meanwhile, Targaszewski, or Officer Taz as everyone calls him, walked around to the others to ask if they needed anything or wanted to go to a warm, dry shelter. The officer also handed out plastic bags donated by a local church filled with non-perishable foods, personal care items and toiletries.
Sears was right to be concerned. Her blood pressure was a little high, Hill said. He told her to make sure she continued to take her prescribed blood pressure medicine and promised he would be back around to check on her next week.
After asking if anyone else needed any assistance, Hill and Targaszewski got back in the cart to head to the next park. The scene at Woodlawn Park would play out again and again at parks throughout St. Petersburg as the pair looked for more people without permanent homes who were in need of medical care.
They have teamed up like this since last May as part of the Police Assisting the Homeless program, or PATH. The PATH program has been around for a few years, but it was in 2021 when the nursing component was added.
Every Tuesday, Hill rides along with Targaszewski through St. Petersburg’s parks to find those who need health care but may be hesitant to seek it out. Through October 2021, the PATH team had about 135 unique visits with people in the parks.
“I’m able to evaluate and assess the person to determine what help they might need,” said Hill, who has been a St. Anthony’s team member for 33 years, with nearly 29 of those as a registered nurse. “I’m able to offer minor medical treatment like checking blood pressures or blood sugars or attending to minor cuts, scrapes and wounds. If I think they need additional help, I will tell the patient that they need to either go to the emergency room or to a clinic.”
Hill does not give out medicines but he does dispense advice on how to stay healthy. He emphasizes the importance of taking prescribed medications and gives the occasional high five. The folks in the park look forward to the visits from Hill and Targaszewski.
“David really listens. He’s a big help,” Sears said. “He’s always very pleasant, very nice. So, I’m always glad to see him.”
Police Chief Anthony Holloway said that his officers are out in the community each day doing park walks and talks with those who live on the streets. “If they need law enforcement, then we are there for that,” he said. “However, we wanted them to know that we are not just there to arrest but also to bring the resources to them as well.”
Holloway said that he was grateful to have St. Anthony’s be a partner in the program. “We were very excited that St. Anthony’s stepped up to help,” said the chief, who is a member of the St. Anthony’s Hospital Board of Trustees. “Through this program, we are able to assist with minor health concerns while keeping the emergency rooms clear. Especially during this time of COVID-19, that is very important.”
BayCare funds part of Hill's time in PATH with Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) funds from St. Anthony’s. Every three years, a CHNA survey is conducted to determine what are the most pressing health needs across the community. BayCare collaborates with other community organizations to listen to input from those who are served through various community programs.
The 2022 CHNA survey was recently launched. Everyone in the four-county area of Hillsborough, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk counties is invited to take the survey at https://www.research.net/r/healthsurvey_2022.
Targaszewski, an 18-year veteran with the police department, said that he and Hill work well together. “David and I are a good team, we get along and we have some similar interests like football,” he said. “One thing that I really like is assisting homeless veterans and helping to get them into shelters. My father is a Vietnam veteran. While David is providing health care, I usually just stand by and chat with them. But I’m also looking for safety issues.”
Hill says he is more concerned about the safety of those living on the streets than he is for himself. “I’m humbled to be able to do this work,” Hill said. “These are the most vulnerable citizens and they need health care too.”
Sr. Mary McNally, vice president of mission at St. Anthony’s, said that the program is really part of the mission of the hospital. “They are truly going where the need is,” Sr. Mary said. “We are grateful to be a part of this program.”
On this Tuesday, as the rain began to get a little harder, Hill and Targaszewski continued making their way through the parks, seeking out those huddling for warmth against an unusually chilly Florida day. Gregory Underwood, a cancer survivor who said he was from a little town in Tennessee, sought help because he feared his blood pressure was too high. He was right, Hill said, advising Underwood to seek out treatment at St. Anthony’s emergency center.
Underwood was grateful for the opportunity to see the nurse in the park. “It’s bad to say that I had to leave my hometown just because of my health problems so that I could get help,” he said. “And I appreciate everything everybody is doing.”