On a typical workday in Guerneville, family doctor Jared Garrison-Jakel attends to patients who are often dealing with more than just an ailment medicine can cure. His patients at the Russian River Health Center include those who do not have a permanent home, are struggling with substance abuse or living with some other mental health disorder — all of which make scheduling a doctor’s appointment a difficult or even impossible task.
“If you don’t know where you are sleeping tonight, making an appointment two or three weeks in advance doesn’t work,” he said. “We need immediacy.”
With this challenge in mind, Garrison-Jakel, of Forestville, implemented a new model for West County Health Centers (WCHC) to see un-housed patients on the same day they schedule the appointment. The new system has proven to be a success, serving on average five un-housed patients a day.
“It’s always been my goal as a family doctor to meet the needs of the community,” Garrison-Jakel said.
The Center For Well Being, a Santa Rosa-based organization with a mission to build a healthier future for people in Sonoma County, recognized the west county doctor for his work at their annual Celebration of Dreams event in September. They selected Garrison-Jakel as the 2018 recipient of the “Leaders In Healthcare” award.
The November WCHC newsletter described Garrison-Jakel, 35, as a young physician who has committed his time, skills and energy to addressing the healthcare needs of the most vulnerable people living in rural, western Sonoma County.
One lesson Garrison-Jakel said he has learned since working with the un-housed population of the Russian River area is the meaning of “survivorship.”
“Nobody is homeless who hasn’t been through the worst circumstances, childhood trauma, mental illness paired with addiction,” he said. “They may not be traditionally succeeding in the way society thinks they should, but there is such resilience.”
He said while it is flattering to have received the award, other staff deserve praise and just as much recognition for their work.
“I’m getting this award because I am the doctor, but the work is reflective of the people I get to work with,” he said. “It’s really about the program.”
For the last two years, he and other members of the Homeless Services team at WCHC have created trusting relationships with more than 200-250 un-housed people living on the lower Russian River.
Garrison-Jakel said it’s a big endeavor working with an underserved population, and it starts with basics: food, housing and health.
“The problems aren’t different, just more extreme when homeless,” he said. “It’s slow medicine, not weeks or months, but six months to two-and-a-half years.”
Since 2010 Garrison-Jakel has lived in the Russian River area. He said from a young age he has been interested in the narrative of people’s lives. With a mother who was employed as a social worker and a father who worked as an Emergency Room nurse, his career path to public health began early.
After graduating from medical school at the University of California-Irvine and gaining a master’s degree in public health from the UC Berkeley, Garrison-Jakel completed his residency at Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa. He began his work with the Russian River Health Center in 2013.
Garrison-Jakel’s professional interests include rural medicine, homelessness, trauma-informed care, end-of-life care, LGBT health, obstetrics, family planning and community-driven interventions.
West County Health Centers, Inc. is a private, non-profit federally qualified health center, receiving Section 330 grant funding from the federal government to provide quality health services to the whole community, regardless of ability to pay.
West County Health Centers offers full scope primary medical and dental care, as well as mental health services. Their HIV/AIDS primary care program is one of the original grantees for Ryan White Title III funds.
According to their website, West County Health Centers’ highly qualified health care team consists of physicians, mid-level providers (family nurse practitioners and physician assistants), dentists, psychotherapists, and nurses, and are supported by medical and dental assistants, outreach workers, and administrative staff.