At one point, Jenny Silva envisioned herself becoming a lawyer. But after graduating from college with a degree in Business Administration, her professional path took a few turns. Luckily for Interfaith Works and those we serve, Jenny ultimately ended up as our first on-staff nurse supporting our Housing and Homeless Services program.
Fresh out of college, Jenny worked in a position focused on workers compensation, doing utilization and review while collaborating with a nurse. “I found it fascinating,” she said. This fascination led her to shift gears and pursue an accelerated program that enabled her to become a registered nurse with a master’s degree.
Building on clinical experience gained by working at area hospitals, Jenny now provides essential care and support to formerly homeless people who become residents in our Interfaith Homes program and Housing Initiative Program (HIP). These Interfaith Works programs provide permanent, supportive housing, which means the residents are there for the long-term, and Interfaith Works continues to help them thrive and navigate the world outside the shelter environment.
Working with between 25 to 30 residents, Jenny spends much of her time doing home visits and accompanying residents to medical appointments. Both of these functions are essential to helping residents get much-needed care for conditions that may have been ignored for years, or may have cropped up as a result of the challenges of living on the streets.
“That’s where I come in and advocate for the client,” she says. Now that their basic needs are being met, they are free to address medical issues that they may have been ignoring for many years. “Now that they have safety and shelter, they say, ‘Now I want to get healthy.'”
Having a nurse on staff is a game-changer for Interfaith Works’ housing programs. “Jenny is able to advocate for our residents’ medical needs, as she knows what questions to ask,” says Diana Bernhardt, Interfaith Works Program Director for Interfaith Homes and HIP.
“Before Jenny joined our team, the residents struggled with understanding their doctors’ recommendations and guidance,” Bernhardt says. “Now Jenny can attend doctor’s appointments with the residents and help them follow through and understand the doctor’s recommendations.” Jenny continues to keep her clinical, bedside skills sharp — she works weekends at a local hospital too.
Success can be measured in different increments, depending on the individual, according to Jenny. For some residents, the biggest impact she can have is helping them focus on taking their medications regularly. For others, it is helping empower them to take control of their own health needs.
Jenny cites one particular resident, who struggles with diabetes and congestive heart disease. “I felt she wasn’t getting the attention she deserved.” Jenny helped her get connected with a provider who gave her referrals to specialists who could give her the specialized care she needed, and the resident is now taking an active role herself in getting the appropriate medical attention, thanks to Jenny’s support and guidance. “I am so happy for her. She is taking charge of her health.”
Some of the support Jenny provides is helping clients work through their anxiety about surgery and other procedures. As a medical professional, Jenny says sometimes it is difficult not to come on too strong in encouraging clients to move forward with medical procedures. “The clients have the right to self-determination. Ultimately is it their decision, and you have to respect that.”
She admires the residents, most of whom have lived on the streets or in the shelter environment for many years, and have suffered significant difficulties at various stages in their lives. “These people have strength and courage.” She observes that many have been through traumas, sometimes in childhood and others as they have struggled with poverty and other life challenges. But she adds that each one has his or her own unique life experience.
“They’re people. They have stories like everyone else,” Jenny says.
She is a life-long resident of Montgomery County, and speaks Portuguese as well as English. Jenny describes herself as a “foodie” and enjoys traveling and playing with her Boston terrier Roxy.
The best part of her job? “I feel like I am making a difference.”