Meeting patients where they are

March 24, 2022

Photo by Chris Mortinson

Originally published in The Argonaut Westsiders – March 24, 2022


Ebony Funches, doctor of nursing practice, loves helping underserved patients. As a member of Venice Family Clinic’s street medicine team, she pounds the pavement to provide care to people experiencing homelessness. “I meet patients exactly where they are,” Funches said. “My goal is to always provide quality care for those who need it most.”

Every Thursday and Friday morning, she goes out with the street medicine team, which is composed of a social worker, registered nurse and mental health specialist, to provide medical care to unsheltered neighbors. They travel across the Westside in the Santa Monica, Venice and Westchester areas, providing care anywhere their expertise is needed including the local library, a new or existing encampment, or simply on the sidewalk.

“I provide outreach services and build trust to deliver the best health care possible,” Funches said. Funches treats new and existing patients, and is able to provide a variety of medical services to them such as taking vitals, prescribing medication, performing wound care and helping with mental health issues.

The long-term goal of the outreach program is to help people living on the street successfully get housing. Funches provides comprehensive care, including physical and mental health options, as well as follow-up care.

“We can diagnose and treat schizophrenia on the street,” Funches said. “We can offer patients with psychosis injectable antipsychotics that last one to six months, which reduces the burden of taking a pill daily. This strategy for treating patients with psychosis helps these people become more organized so that they can function well enough to get housed and meet their long and short-term goals.”

Dedicated to Venice Family Clinic, Funches drives an hour each way to work at the Rose Avenue location. She has been a registered nurse since 2008 and has worked at Venice Family Clinic for the past four years.

“I knew immediately that I was going to be a lifer at Venice Family Clinic,” Funches said. “I am really invested in the Westside. I am most grateful to work at Venice Family Clinic with people who are so dedicated to our mission.”

Funches’ career choice is inspired by her mother, who still works as a nurse in a local correctional facility. By watching her mother help people, Funches knew from a young age that she wanted to do the same.

“I knew I wanted to be a nurse when I was 8 years old,” she said.

Funches worked full time as a nurse while she went to school for additional nursing credentials. Eventually she earned her doctorate in nursing practice, an accomplishment only 10% of nurses have achieved. In addition to working in street medicine and substance use treatment, she is board certified in three different specialties: she’s a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner, a family nurse practitioner, and an adult-gerontology acute care nurse practitioner.

She also credits the clinic staff and her patients for inspiring her to continue learning.

“The clinic provides integrated care, which blends behavioral health services within primary care,” Funches said. “I would not be the provider I am without Venice Family Clinic. The clinic helped me to grow both personally and professionally.”

Besides street medicine, Funches sees others who come to Venice Family Clinic for health care services. In a typical week, she is practicing family medicine, caring for the unhoused who walk in, and providing psychiatry services via telehealth or in-person.

In 2020, Venice Family Clinic celebrated 50 years in the community. As the first community health center in Los Angeles to practice street medicine, it began sending health care providers into the community to care for people experiencing homelessness in 1985. Venice Family Clinic’s street medicine program has grown to nine teams with 11 health care providers.

Venice Family Clinic serves 4,500 unhoused residents, which is about 10% of the total population that the Clinic serves. They also recently launched a new Street Medicine Curriculum. This program is designed to train the next generation of healthcare providers who want to work with the unhoused.

Having recently merged with South Bay Family Health Care, the Clinic now serves patients at 17 convenient locations from the Santa Monica Mountains to the South Bay. Providing in-person primary care and telehealth options to the community, Venice Family Clinic serves more than 45,000 people, regardless of their income, insurance or immigration status.

For people without insurance, services are provided on a sliding scale and no one is turned away. The Clinic receives grant funding and raises private donations to help cover the cost of care for people who don’t have the funds to pay for their care.

During the pandemic, the Clinic was also instrumental in reducing COVID-19 by administering more than 33,000 vaccines to a population that typically has lower vaccination rates. To protect patients and staff at the outset of the pandemic, the Clinic offered telehealth options. Telehealth continues to be an important option for the Clinic’s patients because many lack reliable transportation or have difficulty taking time off work to attend an in-person appointment.

For Funches, serving the community she loves is her main focus.

“I really love my job, it feels meaningful and purposeful every day,” Funches said. “My role is to make sure patients are cared for and respected. I enjoy making sure patients get the care they need and deserve. I’ve never worked for a place where people really live out the mission in their daily work like they do at Venice Family Clinic. It inspires me.”