Proud to be from Pittsburgh: Operation Safety Net



PITTSBURGH - A Pittsburgh doctor has shed his lab coat for a backpack and walking shoes.  Dr. Jim Withers is devoted to his patients he sees under bridges and in abandoned buildings.

Withers' service to the homeless makes us Proud to be from Pittsburgh.

Channel 11 anchor Peggy Finnegan learned Withers has made calls to makeshift dwellings for 22 years.

“I thought, ‘I have to get under those bridges if I am going to be the doctor I want to be,” said Withers.

Withers founded the nation’s first full-time street medicine service Operation Safety Net, which is part of the Pittsburgh Mercy Health System.  The service has grown from a staff of two to several dozen, and more than 1,200 homeless people are treated each year.

Withers said his faith guides him down isolated paths.

“That’s how Jesus did his healing, and I think his message was to go where the hurt is and to be with people humbly,” said Withers.

Finnegan followed Withers and his team as he took care of people.

“The relationship is key.  Even the most mentally ill person can read that you are respectful and that you’re not judgmental,” he said.

“You don’t find many people like him – doctors who will come out here at night, under the bridges and give medical attention and care about you,” said David Mooney.

After 10 years on the street, Mooney is moving into an apartment next week, thanks to Operation Safety Net.

Withers has helped other cities in the United States and around the world start their own street medicine programs.