Iowa City doctor helps homeless with free foot care

A local family physician is taking time each month to provide free foot care to homeless citizens in Iowa City.

Katie Ann McCarver, News Reporter

In an effort to engage the homeless community of Iowa City, Mercy Iowa City family physician Tom Novak, aided by family members and other volunteers, offers a foot-care clinic for impoverished people every month.

The clinic, held the third Saturday of every month by the Iowa City Catholic Worker House, offers free foot soaks, medical examinations, massages, and pedicures, depending on the needs of the people.

“Foot care is one of the things that a lot of people in transition don’t have access to,” Novak said. “The need was pretty clear, and, to me, it wasn’t that difficult to do.”

He said foot care is relatively simple but requires supplies that families who may be between residences may not be able to afford.

“These are people who don’t get pampered; there’s no place in their lives where they have a lot of luxury,”  Novak said. “Foot care isn’t something you need a specialist to do. A lot of it is just giving them space to be comfortable.”

He emphasized the need for foot care, especially because some of the homeless live outdoors, where their feet are susceptible to infection and disease.

“A lot of people are essentially living in their shoes 24 hours a day,” Novak said. “A little difference can prevent some potentially catastrophic problems.”

He noted a man who came in for foot care with large calluses that were causing him pain that could easily be prevented and another who fell asleep during a foot massage.

“We have several people who will provide the clinical part of the foot care and a number who help with other volunteer positions,”  Novak said. “We all have something we can give.”

Since its establishment in February, Novak said, the foot-care clinic seems to be growing from the homeless population it sees every week to more people coming in who hear about it from others.

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In addition to people who require immediate medical attention for foot calluses or blisters, many who come in for foot care just want to relax, and some volunteer to help.

“I prefer to call it foot care than foot clinic because it’s not really a professional encounter,” Novak’s daughter, Nicole Novak, said. “It’s really a lot more about meeting people as people and not as patients.”

Nicole Novak originally partook in the foot-care clinic at a Catholic Worker House in Michigan and suggested its Iowa City counterpart consider replicating it. Her father was the most enthusiastic and began brainstorming.

“He’s just a great caregiver to people in his life,” she said. “It’s been a beautiful way for him to share a lot of the care he has.”

A normal day at the clinic includes a sign-up sheet for what kind of bath salts or bubbles patients want in their foot soak, what color nail polish to finish the job, whether they need socks or shoe inserts, and a lot of visiting.

David Goodner, a community member from the local Catholic Worker House, described the atmosphere of the establishment as hospitable, and he said it also offers free meals, showers, and the ability to do laundry.

“Tom Novak and Nicole basically took the foot-care-clinic ball and ran with it,” Goodner said. “Dr. Novak sets up foot basins, plastic tubs with hot water, and Epsom salts. It’s just like getting a pedicure.”