Twice a month, visitors known as the MUSHROOM Team roam the halls of the Bartlett House Transitional Facility on West Run Road in Morgantown. The team of WVU Health Sciences students and professors offers preventive healthcare to residents who were once homeless. Knocking on doors, the team discovers a new story and a bonding experience in each apartment.

“By taking healthcare into their homes where they invite me to sit on their couch or eat some of their dinner, I found I was participating in life care not healthcare,” said WVU medical student Jason Statler. “We end up discussing topics from job searches to ex-girlfriends, from lost family members to personal hygiene and cooking tips. I’ve been a medical student, a teacher, a therapist, an addiction counselor, a secretary, a handyman, and a friend – sometimes all in one apartment.”

WVU School of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Susan Pinto, MSN, BSN, and a team of WVU School of Medicine and School of Nursing students help Bartlett House Transitional Facility residents manage smaller health problems that could become more damaging if left untreated. Compassion and listening go a long way, too.

Residents and families living there have endured trying times – homelessness, disabilities, poverty, chronic issues including substance abuse, mental illness, HIV/AIDS, or other challenges like domestic violence. A stepping stone toward helping them become self-sufficient, residents may stay up to two years at the facility, and they pay rent based on 30 percent of their income.

Pinto’s work with the WVU School of Medicine street-rounds project called MUSHROOM inspired her to form the nurse-led team for home visits to the transitional facility, and she obtained funding from a West Virginia public service grant. Like the success of the Multidisciplinary UnSheltered Homeless Relief Outreach of Morgantown (MUSHROOM), Pinto’s outreach program at the Bartlett House Transitional Facility is making waves in residents’ lives.

Each resident’s needs are different. The team provides gentle guidance that otherwise they might not receive – helping residents with disabilities order healthier foods for online delivery, connecting them with local health agencies like Milan Puskar Health Right, encouraging them to keep a walking log or use a pedometer, or referring them to a local minister.

Resident Henry Figueroa says his entire life has turned around since he came to the facility and welcomed the MUSHROOM Team into his home. The team helps him manage his mental and physical health symptoms, and they go to doctor’s appointments with him to help him communicate with medical providers and ask questions. “Life is better since I got here. The team is so wonderful to me,” he said.

Sometimes, all the residents need is a little compassion and moral support, Pinto said. “A lot of times people just need someone to sit down and talk with, and they don’t have people who visit them at the facility. There are folks from all over the state who live there. We have become a social network for them, and they look forward to our visits. One resident keeps a picture of him and the students on his refrigerator. He always asks when we are coming back.”

Moore and a resident talk in his apartment. "A lot of times people just need someone to sit down and talk with," said WVU School of Nursing Clinical Assistant Professor Susan Pinto, MSN, BSN.

Not only are the residents’ lives being enriched from the home health visits, but so are the lives of health sciences students involved.

“There is a push from the whole University for more interprofessional learning opportunities. This nurse-led team experience is a very unique clinical capacity that’s a whole different world from bedside care,” Pinto said. “It’s important for the students to work with vulnerable populations, and it’s an excellent opportunity for them to learn to work as a team.”

WVU nursing student Jen Groff says her future career has been greatly affected by her time at the Bartlett House Transitional Facility. “On top of the experience I’ve gained with my nursing skills at the facility, it has been so rewarding getting to know these clients better, seeing the impact a few minutes of working with them can have on their day, and seeing them improve each time we go,” Groff said. “When someone tells me our solutions have helped make their days better, it’s the best feeling knowing we’ve been able to produce some beneficial changes. Every time we go there all the residents appear so genuinely excited to see us, and it makes me want to come back more and more.”