Guest Blog: Psychiatric Outreach Program (POP) in Jackson, MS

As a part of PRMS’ ongoing commitment to behavioral health we invited Dr. Chasity Torrence, Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at the University of Mississippi Medical Center (UMMC) and a staff psychiatrist at the Mississippi State Hospital, to be featured as one of our guest bloggers this month. In 2016, Dr. Torrence received the PRMS Resident Achievement Travel Award and the 2016 Draper Award at the UMMC resident graduation.

What is homelessness? Homelessness is defined as “having no place to live” or “having no home or permanent place of residence.” Thirty percent of those suffering from chronic homelessness have a serious mental illness and two-thirds have a primary substance use disorder or other chronic health condition.

In recent years, homelessness has become an epidemic. Annually, 1.56 million individuals (0.5% of the U.S. population) use emergency shelters or transitional housing. The majority of homeless individuals lack health insurance, a public provision for healthcare, or a primary care provider. Emergency departments are not equipped to meet the psychosocial needs of homeless patients and do not have the capacity to assist with housing, substance use treatment, or mental healthcare.

The Psychiatric Outreach Program (POP) is a volunteer physician-based outreach program founded in July 2016 by Dr. Chasity Torrence, assistant professor of psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior and a staff psychiatrist at the Mississippi State Hospital, along with Dr. Charles Richardson and Dr. Matthew Walker, psychiatry residents at the University of Mississippi Medical Center. The thrust of POP was inspired by Dr. Sheryl Fleisch from Vanderbilt University who founded a similar program in Nashville, Tennessee. Last summer, amid $8.3 million in legislative budget cuts to mental health in Mississippi, POP was founded to offset those affected who could not otherwise afford mental health services.

Dr. Chasity Torrence, right, and fourth-year medical student Jonathan Baker review a case on October 15 in the POP clinic at the Jackson Free Clinic. Photo courtesy: Gary Pettus

The POP clinic is available every third Saturday at the Jackson Free Clinic, a medical-student-run free clinic in Jackson, MS. The number of patients has tripled since POP opened its doors seven months ago, and the volunteers are looking to partner with other outreach programs and homeless shelters in the area to meet the growing demand. POP’s goals are to:
- provide accessible mental healthcare to the underserved, homeless, and uninsured residents of Jackson, MS
- reduce the volume of non-emergent care placed on emergency departments of local hospitals
- build strong relationships with the community
The POP clinic uses an interdisciplinary team of volunteer social workers, recreational therapists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists who also volunteer at the Jackson Free Clinic.

Staff members of the Psychiatry Outreach Program are, front row, from left, row, co-founders Dr. Matthew Walker, a third-year resident; Dr. Chasity Torrence, assistant professor of psychiatry; and fourth-year resident Dr. Charles Richardson; back row, from left, volunteers Yolonda Ross, a fourth-year medical student; Dr. Jon Jackson, assistant professor of psychiatry; and Jonathan Baker, a fourth-year medical student.