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Posted: September 7th, 2023

Vulnerable Populations in the United States

Many vulnerable populations exist in the United States. Which vulnerable population do you think is the most challenging to care for, and how might your nursing care change when caring for this population as opposed to individual clients?

Please respond to the above writing prompt with a minimum of 500 words written in APA format, with a minimum of three current references within the last 5 years.

Vulnerable Populations in the United States: Caring for Those Experiencing Homelessness
Homelessness is a significant social issue affecting vulnerable populations in the United States. People experiencing homelessness face numerous health challenges and barriers to care. As a nurse, providing care for those experiencing homelessness presents unique considerations compared to caring for housed individuals. This paper will discuss why homelessness is arguably the most challenging vulnerable population for nurses to care for and how a nurse’s approach may differ when working with homeless patients.
Homelessness poses substantial health risks. Those without stable housing “experience higher rates of infectious diseases, physical trauma, mental illness, and mortality” than the general public (Baggett et al., 2013, p. 962). Common health issues for homeless individuals include respiratory illnesses, frostbite or heat-related illnesses due to exposure to extreme temperatures, infectious diseases like tuberculosis or HIV/AIDS, alcohol or substance use disorders, and untreated chronic conditions like diabetes or heart disease (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). The unstable living situations and lack of access to hygiene resources put homeless populations at higher risk for communicable illnesses. Additionally, the stress of homelessness can exacerbate any preexisting mental health or substance use issues (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019).
Beyond health risks, homelessness creates barriers to accessing healthcare. Those experiencing homelessness often lack transportation, phone or internet access to schedule appointments, and a stable address to receive medical records or prescription refills (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). They may distrust healthcare systems due to previous discrimination or trauma (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). Financial constraints also limit access, as homeless individuals have high rates of uninsurance (Baggett et al., 2013). These obstacles can delay treatment and lead to worse health outcomes. As such, homelessness represents an extremely vulnerable population with complex medical, social, and psychological needs.
When providing nursing care to homeless patients, sensitivity to their unique circumstances is paramount. Nurses must recognize how homelessness impacts health and consider social determinants of health in treatment planning (American Nurses Association, 2021). This means addressing basic needs like food, clothing, and shelter in addition to medical issues (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). It also involves adopting trauma-informed care approaches, building trust through consistency and respect, and empowering patients in their own care (National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). Coordinating with social services, case managers, and homeless outreach teams can help address underlying social needs and improve health outcomes (American Nurses Association, 2021; National Health Care for the Homeless Council, 2019). With compassion and understanding of the challenges of homelessness, nurses can play a key role in caring for this vulnerable group.
In conclusion, homelessness represents one of the most complex vulnerable populations for nurses to care for. Individuals experiencing homelessness have high medical needs but also face significant barriers to healthcare access. As caregivers, nurses must recognize how homelessness impacts health and adapt their approaches using trauma-informed, patient-centered models. Coordinating medical care with social services can help address the multidimensional challenges of homelessness. With sensitivity to the lived experiences of homeless patients, nurses are well-positioned to improve health for this vulnerable group.
American Nurses Association. (2021). Social determinants of health and nursing: Advancing health equity. https://www.nursingworld.org/~4af078/globalassets/docs/ana/social-determinants-of-health-white-paper-2021.pdf
Baggett, T. P., O’Connell, J. J., Singer, D. E., & Rigotti, N. A. (2013). The unmet health care needs of homeless adults: A national study. American Journal of Public Health, 103(S2), S324–S329. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2013.301369
National Health Care for the Homeless Council. (2019). Homelessness & health: What’s the connection? https://www.nhchc.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Hln_health_factsheet_Jan2019.pdf

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