loading ...

“Housing is really medicine to our patients.” – Family Nurse Practitioner Tess Barbach

May 14th, 2020

“Housing is really medicine to our patients.” – Family Nurse Practitioner Tess Barbach

As a nurse at Ritter Center, there is a patient who changed my perspective on everything. She was anxious about her health, often calling 911 and going to the ER at least once a week.

She’d been sleeping in chairs for years at a shelter that didn’t have enough room for cots. She had developed chronic swelling in her ankles. She couldn’t take diuretics because she didn’t have consistent access to a bathroom. In fact, the swelling was so intense from the skin stretching and tearing that she started developing a skin infection called cellulitis.

At first, she didn’t trust us. She even called 911 from our waiting room. Our approach was to increase our engagement with her in the clinic. It can be frustrating.  It takes patience.  But here’s the thing: it works.

Currently, she’s sheltering at a motel and just being able to elevate her feet when she’s sleeping makes a huge difference in her health.   She is moving to permanent housing soon.  

Housing is really medicine to our patients. At Ritter Center, we acknowledge every person.  The most meaningful thing you can do is listen. Sadly, they are used to only negative responses or being ignored.

Working at Ritter has shown me that progress should be measured incrementally, not just in terms of patient outcomes.

It’s simple.  We keep showing up. We follow through with our promises.

They respond. They will keep coming back to the clinic, and over time, their health conditions will improve. It’s all about trust, being present, and reacting with compassion.

The pandemic is traumatic for our patients. It exacerbates isolation and destroys community.  

There are many challenges.  But there is one thing we can all do.  Treat everyone with respect and compassion, regardless of how they look, act or smell.

Make the decision to be kind.

Tess Barbach is Ritter Center’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Family Nurse Practitioner.



Ritter Center is on the front lines during COVID-19. We are helping to pay the rent for those who have lost their income — the key to preventing homelessness and our healthcare team continues to give out hundreds of food parcels at our food pantry, provide medical and mental healthcare, and deliver a much needed dose of human kindness to every person we can support.

But, our resources are being stretched beyond what we could have imagined. Rental assistance funding from the County, given to multiple organizations, including Ritter Center, ran out in a matter of days.

We have launched an EMERGENCY FUND APPEAL to raise $75,000 to help vulnerable families and individuals in Marin keep their homes and find shelter through this crippling pandemic. Help us reach our goal and support those on the edge of homelessness by making a gift today!

Let’s not let income loss = home loss.