Sister Adele O’Sullivan, CSJ, MD, entered the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet in 1968. After an initial career as a pharmacist, both Sister Adele and her community recognized significant opportunities to serve the poor through the healthcare system, and Sister Adele was sent to the University of Arizona, where she earned her MD in 1984.
Dr. O’Sullivan was working–quite happily, as she remembers–at a small family health center in El Mirage in 1996 when she was contacted by Maricopa County’s Health Care for the Homeless program.
“I received a call one day that the county needed a doctor. Since my community trained me to become a physician to care for the poor, I took the job and my life has not been the same,” she says.
During her years of providing primary health care to local homeless individuals, Sister Adele remembers that the learning curve was steep. She learned not to take even the littlest things for granted when caring for this population.
For instance, there wasn’t a way for a homeless patient to easily or hygienically clean and change the dressing on an open wound. She also couldn’t assume that a patient living on the streets had food to accompany necessary medications or was getting enough rest. She found that medication management was virtually impossible for patients with poor vision and a lack of corrective eyewear. Even when patients could manage their own medications, there was the constant challenge of safely storing them at night.
Because of these barriers, new medical complications would often present before others could be fully resolved, resulting in a recurring cycle of health problems that made it virtually impossible for patients to heal, much less escape from homelessness.
In one instance, Sister Adele was caring for a patient named John, who sold game-day Arizona Diamondbacks programs on the patio of Chase Field. Quite abruptly, John was diagnosed with bladder cancer, which had spread throughout his body. Receiving both radiation and chemotherapy on an outpatient basis, John spent the final seven months of his life in a local homeless shelter, struggling to control medications, pain, and nausea. Sister Adele cared for all his medical needs but was frustrated and saddened that she could not provide him with a safe and comfortable environment in which he could receive medical care during his last days.
John’s experience is just one of the many that inspired Sister Adele to create Circle the City.