Dr. Brandon Pomeroy Helps the Kansas City Homeless
The physician is a key part of Care Beyond the Boulevard and frequently travels to Uganda, Mali and India for surgical trips.
Dr. Brandon Pomeroy ’88
TCU Major: Chemistry
Medical Specialty: Urology
August 2018 — Nestled among faded Victorian and American Foursquare houses in Kansas City, Missouri, stands the Independence Boulevard Christian Church. Before Dr. Brandon Pomeroy reaches the back door of the dome-topped church, a woman stops him.
“Oh! Doctor,” she says before explaining that she can’t get her prescription because the pharmacy doesn’t have her address and contact information. The pharmacy needs a physician to resend the order.
“I’d be happy to do it,” says Pomeroy, a physician for Kansas City Urology Care. “We’ll get it to you.”
Inside the church on Gladstone Boulevard, Pomeroy greets the triage team of Care Beyond the Boulevard.
The nonprofit organization, started by Jaynell “KK” Assmann, provides medical and mental health care to the city’s homeless and underserved populations.
Before creating Care Beyond the Boulevard, Assmann, a nurse practitioner, volunteered at the Micah Ministry. That organization helps impoverished people by providing services such as Monday night meals that can draw as many as 700 people.
As Assmann served plates of food, people started telling her about their ailments. “A meal a week is great, but they need more than that,” she said.
In March 2016, Assmann launched Care Beyond the Boulevard. Within months of the clinic’s opening, Pomeroy started volunteering with her.
Assmann and the urologist share a propensity for helping impoverished people. “He and I have a little secret,” she said. “Our patients do more for us than we do for them.”
Serving homeless people gives Pomeroy a chance to grow as a physician. “The more you do that’s creative and outside your comfort zone, the better,” he said. “It makes it easier for something else. If you’ve done something like that here, or Uganda, or Mali, then you know it can be done, and you can take care of it somewhere else.”
August 2018 — On a Monday night at the church, more than 300 people eat and mingle along a dozen rows of tables adorned with plastic red-checkered tablecloths.
Within the cacophony of activity, there is order: Volunteers serve beef stroganoff and blue-iced sugar cookies and hand out bags of clothing.
If people need to see a physician, they go upstairs. Pomeroy says many patients come in for diabetes and blood pressure maintenance, bug bites, small infections and wounds, as well as psychiatric needs. He also sees trench foot and frostbite during inclement weather.
Tonight, Pomeroy is stationed in “the good room” (it’s spacious) containing a painting of Jesus, a shopping cart, a U.S. flag, a wheelchair and an artificial ficus tree. His backpack sits on a carpet of indeterminable color (maybe it’s maroon; maybe it’s brown).
A woman wearing a Reba McEntire T-shirt shuffles in. “How are you doing, young man?” she asks the physician in a raspy voice. The woman, Louisa, talks to Pomeroy about back and leg pain that prevents her from sleeping through the night.
With a bedside manner honed over two decades of medical practice, Pomeroy asks questions about the nature of her pain. He makes notes on a sheet of paper.
“We have the same birthday,” Pomeroy says.
“Oh, awesome,” Louisa says. “We’re awesome. We’re twins, you know. Geminis are twins.”
Pomeroy takes out his stethoscope and listens to Louisa’s lungs. He leaves the room to get her naproxen and Imodium. (“We don’t have any narcotics,” Pomeroy says. “Especially on the streets, it’s important not to have that stuff.”)
Across the hall, next to a church organ, a portable wooden case holds clear bins of prescription medications.
Billie Jean has come to the church to talk about swelling in her legs. “I haven’t had very much sleep since it’s been raining,” she says. “Everything of ours is wet.” She says she doesn’t have a tarp for her tent, nor does she have poles. The tent is attached to a tree.
Billie Jean pushes her curly auburn hair out of her face to look down at her feet. She says she frequents QuikTrip for hotdogs and buffalo chicken. “Salt makes you swell,” Pomeroy says.
A convenient, sodium-laden diet like Billie Jean’s is not uncommon for homeless people. In studies assessing the nutritional status of homeless adults, many researchers have noted the population’s levels of malnourishment from inadequate diets. A qualitative study from the United Kingdom published in Nutrition Research Reviews found that homeless people aspire to eat more fruits and vegetables but are limited by low income and lack of storage for raw and perishable food.
Within five months of starting her health care initiative, Assmann realized her medical efforts to help the homeless still weren’t enough. It’s difficult for homeless patients to make their health a priority when they’re struggling to find their next meal and somewhere to sleep, she said. They are reluctant to leave their tents unattended and risk theft of their belongings. And, she said, “the bus system is not easy, particularly if you’re carrying your house on your back.”
In September 2016, Assmann launched a medical group to take health care directly to homeless people living on the street, with Pomeroy joining the crew.
“Worrying about getting to the pharmacy to pick up your prescription is really low down on the totem pole,” the nurse practitioner said. The portable pharmacy, with donated supplies, accompanies the church clinic and street medicine group.
* * * * *
In November 2011, Pomeroy drove a nun to an advocacy event in Wichita, Kansas. The physician expressed his desire to participate in a medical ministry in Africa; he just couldn’t figure out how to get there. The nun told him not to worry and that she would pray for him.
Two weeks later, Pomeroy received an email addressed to all Kansas City urologists.
The group email was a plea to help a 12-year-old Malian girl (the same age as his own daughter at the time) with an ectopic ureter. Ureters are tubes that connect the kidneys to the bladder. But one of the girl’s ureters bypassed her bladder and connected to her vagina, causing her to constantly leak urine.
“I saw that [email] and I said, ‘Yep! I don’t even know where Mali is — I’ve never heard of it — but I’m going.’ ” After Pomeroy performed the surgery, the girl was able to go to school. “That’s a big, life-changing thing,” he said.
In 2018, Pomeroy used almost all five weeks of his vacation time on international medical trips. “I feel a responsibility,” he said. “It’s just the usual cliche thing: If you’re good at something or if you have a passion for something, you kind of have a responsibility to not just go to the lake. You should help people if you can.”
Pomeroy has traveled to Uganda, Mali and India multiple times through the Medical Missions Foundation, a nonprofit organization that sends teams of doctors and nurses to underserved communities around the world.
“It’s important to go there and pay attention, to learn from them and pay attention to the way they do things and what their actual needs are,” he said. “As long as there is a need, you can keep evolving what you do there to make it more useful to the people there.”
During a weeklong stay in India in February 2019, the urologist performed 55 surgeries, working from 8 a.m. until 8 or 9 p.m.
Instead of an “operate and leave” model, Pomeroy prefers to teach physicians in countries where there may be limited education and specialty training. He is sometimes a medical student’s only exposure to urology. “I’ll be operating and there will be 15 medical students in the room with me watching,” he said. “I’m their whole urology rotation.”
Instead of swooping in with elaborate, high-tech instruments that will be loaded back on an airplane after a week, Pomeroy shows doctors abroad how to use the instruments they have. “The most useful things are a little bit beyond what they can do there,” Pomeroy said. “You don’t want to go in and do stuff they can’t do. You want to teach. These are good doctors that are there.”
Pomeroy stepped up to lead a September 2018 mission trip to Uganda. He has since headed another team. “All these African countries had a lot of bad things happen over the last hundred years,” Pomeroy said, straightening his copy of The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Does Not Forget: Murder and Memory in Uganda by Andrew Rice (Picador, 2010) on a table, exposing the “be kind” tattoo on his right forearm and the sacred Hindu om symbol on his left wrist.
“You see how small the world is. You see how people are the same everywhere,” he said. “You come back, and you share it with people. You’re a better person, maybe, a more tolerant or patient person, and that rubs off on other people. You’re spreading these little oases of kindness.”