June 3, 2021

Medical student wins fellowship to launch harm reduction kit project for people experiencing homelessness

Lianna Foster-Bey was selected as one of eight Albert Schweitzer Fellows for 2021-2022, a nod from the Detroit Chapter of the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship program at Authority Health in Wayne County that comes with financial support to launch projects that benefit public health. 

Lianna Foster-Bey

The national initiative promotes humanitarian values and leadership among health and human service graduate students. Detroit is one of 13 chapters in the United States. Fellows are required to identify a problem or opportunity impacting population health, design a sustainable project to provide a positive intervention and provide a measurement method. About 4,000 health and human service professionals nationwide have successfully completed the fellowship.

Foster-Bey, a fourth-year medical student, will use the award to provide harm-reduction kits to individuals who need them in the city of Detroit. She hopes to tailor kits to each participant, but can include Naloxone, syringes, sharps containers, alcohol swabs, cotton, sterile water, condoms and hand sanitizer. The kits will also include a simple pocket guide with information about harm-reduction practices for intravenous drug use and sex, symptoms of overdose, Naloxone use and treatment options.

I feel humbled and honored to have been awarded a Schweitzer Fellowship. My cohort is filled with amazing and inspiring medical, allied health and public health students who are all interested in addressing health disparities. I am extremely grateful to learn from and alongside this cohort,” she said.

Foster-Bey is a member of the Street Medicine Detroit student organization that provides care for the homeless on the street and in shelters, and advocacy chair for the Street Medicine Institute Student Coalition. Last June, she won one of four Warrior Unsung Hero awards from the WSU Board of Governors for her work early in the COVID-19 pandemic creating and organizing field hand-washing stations around Detroit for those who did not readily have access to running water.

The fellowship will help to get the program off the ground, but will not cover Foster-Bey’s projected cost for the year. To make up the gap, the medical student started a GoFundMe to collect donations at https://gofund.me/71578e49.Additionally, those interested in donating harm-reduction supplies may email her directly at Lianna.foster-bey@med.wayne.edu.

The idea for the project was a culmination of different sources, first sparked when she heard a webinar hosted by the Street Medicine Institute Student Coalition and led by Emma Lo, M.D., about reducing harms related to opioid use in the streets.

“Then, early this year I began to see statistics about spiking opioid overdose deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic and provisional U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data showing that overdose deaths were at an all-time high. These two things, combined with experiences during my clerkships and out on street runs with persons who inject drugs, led to the project idea,” Foster-Bey said. “I am hopeful that this project will help engage marginalized Detroiters with respect and decrease the prevalence of injection drug use related sequelae while also providing an opportunity for open discussions on harm-reduction practices, barriers to behavior change and treatment, and available treatment options.”

Her community site partner for the fellowship is Street Medicine Detroit and her mentor is Jim Bastian, R.N., a preceptor with the organization.

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