Burnaby PCN Social Supports: Supporting homeless and underhoused people through COVID-19

Oct 26, 2020

Primary care networks (PCN) have enabled the Burnaby Division of Family Practice to implement programs and supports that address the health care needs of both the homeless and underhoused population and those who suffer from opioid use disorder. In March of this year, the Burnaby PCNs acted quickly to respond to the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, as people in both groups targeted by these programs and supports are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.

PCNs in Burnaby were able to address the needs of both of these vulnerable groups by utilizing the skills and expertise of Dr Birinder Narang, a family physician, and Pippin O’Neill, a nurse practitioner (NP). Both Dr Narang and O’Neill were deployed at various facilities throughout the community such as the Progressive Housing Emergency shelter or the City of Burnaby warming centres. Prior to COVID, there were no regular primary care services available, and  offering primary care at the shelter and warming centres gave people access to COVID related care and education. The services also reduced travel to receive care, thus lowering the risk of contracting or spreading COVID during transit.

Profile photo of Dr Narang

(Above: Dr Narang)

Dr Narang originally offered his services to the PCN in hopes of providing better care to homeless and underhoused people in the community.

“It has been my privilege to visit the under-served population in Burnaby at warming centres,” says Narang. “Having access to pandemic prescribing, including safe supply guidance is an integral part of their overall care. Ongoing recognition of the dual public health crisis is essential as we plan for our future.“

Narang and O’Neill not only provided patients with immediate primary care, but could also assess for their pandemic prescribing needs. Through multiple clinic outreach locations, patients could access safe supply medication for opioid use disorder. This was critical as contamination in street drug supplies increased, placing this population at even greater risk of overdose. The Burnaby PCN brought in allied team members including social work and counselling services for patients who needed additional support.

Dr Narang and NP O'Neill inside their clinic.

(Above from left to right: Dr Narang and Nurse Practioner O'Neill) 

“I know I make a difference when I offer safe supply to people who just need a little help to get back on track.“ added O’Neill.

The need for primary care services in this area continues to increase. The PCN is responding by focusing an additional NP to continue to work with their community partners and the city to ensure those most vulnerable have access to the care that they need.