Sharon Morrison was fresh out of nursing school in 1997,when she joined Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program as a nurse caring for our youngest patients experiencing homelessness on our Family Team, and at our clinic at Suffolk Downs …. and she has been with us ever since.
From caring for children, she moved to the streets on our Street Outreach Team going into alleyways and under bridges to care for our “rough sleepers”. It was on one of her first nights out on the street that reshaped the way she approached clinical care. “I was out on the van with Dr. O’Connell and we headed to the Night Center. When we got there, we met a patient who was ravaged with scabies. He removed his shirt so we could get a better look at the spread of the rash, and his chest was completely excoriated. Dr. O’Connell didn’t even bat an eye. He reached out with an ungloved hand and touched his chest for about three seconds. ‘Oh my,’ said Jim, ‘That looks like it’s really troubling you. Let’s get you some help for that.’ I asked Jim later, ‘Aren’t you afraid you’re going to get scabies from touching him?’ And Jim, he said something to me that I’ll never forget, he said, ‘I’m unlikely to get scabies from touching him for those three seconds. That will never outweigh the good I was able to do by making him feel like a human being.”
That lesson traveled with Sharon through her many nursing roles at BHCHP for the last 23 years. One of the things she treasures most about her time here is that, as a nurse, she’s had lots of opportunities to move around between disciplines, vary her nursing skills and to hear the stories of so many beloved patients. For four years, Sharon split her time providing diabetes education at our many shelter clinics across Boston, and contracting with the National Health Care for the Homeless Council, traveling around the country developing and teaching homeless health care curricula, based on our best practices. Sharon’s passion for her work is beyond remarkable. “The tasks that I do as a nurse, change a dressing, give an injection… that’s not the work that I do. Those tasks allow me to walk through the clinic door--to do my real work ---to be present enough in someone's life so they feel important." Since 2003, Sharon has managed our Christine Loeber clinic at the New England Center and Home for Veterans in Boston. “I have never stopped being humbled by the amount of horror that people can withstand and survive in their lives and continue to move forward. It is a privilege to be invited into people's lives and care for them at their most vulnerable,” she says of her time here.
She sees Veteran care as a bit different from civilian care, if only because each patient at the NECHV has raised their right hand and taken on a job for all of us. This shared experience creates a strong communal atmosphere among the Veteran patients at our NECHV clinic. They have a built in camaraderie, they watch out for each other and keep one another in line. Over the years, Sharon has collected photographs from her patients experiencing homelessness on their tours of duty and has framed them …and they cover the walls of the clinic.
Sharon’s early interaction with BHCHP’s Dr. Jim O’Connell and their patients set a powerful course for her nursing work, and that’s evident as she says, “The longer any of us do this work, it's really easy to become cynical or hardened or discouraged or feel like people will never be able to climb out the hole they're in. The things we're seeing now with COVID mirror that. A big part of our work is to just help people to continue to remain hopeful.”