When homeless patients come into the urgent care facility where Jaime Armstrong, CMA (AAMA), works, she often greets them with a care package.

“Years ago, when my daughter was young, we were living in a homeless shelter for a short period of time because of a bad situation we were in with my first husband. Helping patients in need like this—vulnerable patients—is near and dear to me,” says Armstrong. “I want them to know that they have somebody who cares, because I know the smallest thing in that situation helps so much.”

Armstrong named the packages CARES, which stands for “compassionate awareness and response with essential supplies.” While content varies based on supplies, each package usually contains socks, hand sanitizer, hygiene wipes, tissue, soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a snack. Depending on the season, Armstrong may add in a hat and gloves or sunscreen and lip balm.

In 2019, when she started working at Providence Immediate Care in Portland, Oregon, the practice had a stash of socks to give patients in need. She decided to build on the idea and add more supplies.

“My clinic is really close to homeless camps, so we have a lot of patients who come in who are homeless, and a lot will ask for socks. When the pandemic hit, the stock of socks was depleted,” she says.

As COVID-19 cases began to plateau, she asked her manager if she could create the CARES packages. She was given permission to present her idea to providers in the practice. After hearing about her cause, they gave her the go-ahead.

At first, Armstrong paid for the supplies herself. She also received monetary and supply donations from coworkers and staff at her clinic.

“A medical assistant I work with has a friend who works in a dental office, and they had a bunch of little toothpaste packets they were going to get rid of, so he networked to get the dentist to donate them to us,” she says.

To keep the supplies coming in, Armstrong applied for a grant from Providence, which gives monetary support to its clinics for various projects, technology, or equipment.

“They granted me $3,000 for the packages to be used in our urgent care, and they also want me to supply the packs to the two other clinics in our building—internal medicine and family medicine,” she says.

In 2020, the urgent care clinic gave away about 100 packages. With the grant, she hopes to increase that number. The response from patients so far keeps her going.

“We’ve had patients who we recognize might benefit from this, and when we give them packs, they are surprised and excited and so thankful because we treat them with kindness and show them we care,” says Armstrong.

Interacting with patients in the urgent care setting is her favorite part of the job. Although she worked in pain, family medicine, and internal medicine clinics for the first eight years of her career, Armstrong was interested in urgent care since her medical assisting program.

“During school, I got treatment at an urgent care facility,” she says. “As medical assistants were rooming me, I got to talking to them about what they do. I thought it was intriguing because of the variety they see.”

In 2017, she got the opportunity to work in urgent care and has not looked back.

“I never know what’s coming through the door, which is one of the appeals,” says Armstrong. “But I always know I’m there to help patients no matter their circumstance.”