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LOS ANGELES — On an unusually cold and rainy Los Angeles afternoon, physician assistant Robert Finch is crouched in front of a man living in a pedestrian tunnel. It’s the first time they’ve met, after a local nonprofit asked Finch and his colleagues on a street medicine team to check in on the man’s mental and physical health. A few minutes into their conversation, Finch offers the man a black handheld GPS tracker on a lanyard to wear around his neck.

With the offer comes reassurance: the tracker is completely optional, and solely so the health care team can check up on him periodically for routine visits or in case of medical emergency. Patients can press a button to send a pre-programmed, customizable message to the team, such as letting them know they’re OK, or requesting help as soon as possible.


The man accepts the free device, as do many of the unhoused patients the Healthcare in Action street medicine team visits each day, zig-zagging around Los Angeles in a white van stocked with common medicines, clean needles, and other supplies and outfitted with a small exam bench in the back.

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