A few patients gather in the common room of the old building, reading newspapers or grabbing sodas from the vending machine. A man in a wheelchair rolls in, while another takes up his post at a seat in the hallway. Carissa Marston greets them all by name, checking in with each as she makes her way upstairs.
Marston is a case manager with Central City Concern’s Recuperative Care Program (RCP), one of several CCC programs housed in downtown Portland’s historic Henry Building. She first joined the RCP in 2013 as a member of Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC) Northwest and was hired a year later as a paid staff member.
Before Marston came to RCP, she had never worked with homeless or medically vulnerable adults, but she brought with her skills learned as a resident assistant in her college dorm in Louisiana.
“I had some experience in crisis management and responding to emergencies on the fly. Things usually go smoothly at RCP on a day-to-day basis, but I’ve found that my calm demeanor can be useful here,” Marston says.
One significant aspect of her job is screening new referrals made by area hospitals and social workers, ensuring that arriving patients will be a good fit for the program. All new patients must be able to perform daily living activities independently and have an acute need that can be resolved, Marston says.
“We’re not trying to screen people out,” Marston adds. “We’re trying to screen people in. We always think about how we can tweak the program to be more successful.”
Marston, one of five full-time caseworkers, begins her rounds each morning with juice and granola bars as a “peace offering” for waking up her patients. Throughout the day, she helps them get to medical and counseling appointments, and also helps prepare them for life after RCP. Most patients stay in the program for two to six weeks.
The 24 year old, who grew up outside of New Orleans, says that the learning curve at CCC was fast and furious, especially since she started the job soon after graduating from college.
“It was mind-blowing and eye-opening in every way,” Marston admits. One of the most important skills she’s learned over the years is how to communicate with patients, as well as how to communicate with those who don’t work in similar fields.
Living with four other people, all of whom have volunteered with JVC Northwest in the past, helps her deal with the intensity of the job. “It’s good to have that kind of audience,” Marston says.
The work has also been invigorating for her. Marston had long been considering a career in medicine, but was reluctant to make a commitment without experience.
“I’ve really enjoyed being here, at the borderline between medical care and social services. And I’ve had some really great mentors at Old Town Clinic,” she says.
At the end of the summer, Marston will be leaving the Northwest to start a three-year physician assistant program at Duke University in North Carolina, but she hopes to return to Portland when she earns her degree. Her dream job? A position with CCC, right back where she started.
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