Dr. Ted Muller says physicians are like “modern-day superheroes.” But rather than fly or show indomitable physical strength, their superpower is the ability to help people heal and make them feel safer.
“There are situations where people come in and you can literally help save their lives,” he said.
But it’s not bravado you see or hear with Dr. Muller. His voice is calm like a still pond. He is tall, dark-haired and bespectacled. He has a humble and down-to-earth presence that makes him appear more like Clark Kent than Superman. By day, he unassumingly cares for patients as an emergency medicine physician at Sutter Auburn Faith Hospital in Auburn, Calif. He also spends his personal time volunteering at an onsite medical clinic at The Gathering Inn, where he also serves as a physician leader.
“I think it is every physician’s obligation to give back,” he said.
The Gathering Inn serves around 250 men, women and children every day who are experiencing homelessness in Placer County. The agency offers them a range of services including employment and housing assistance, case management, a clothing closet, as well as laundry and shower services.
Funding for The Gathering Inn’s medical clinic comes courtesy of community health investments from various partners, including Sutter Health. Health systems like Sutter conduct Community Health Needs Assessments every three years. The assessments provide an in-depth look into priority health needs within a region, identifying communities of concern and vulnerable populations where community benefit investments from health systems are needed most. Sutter’s investments with The Gathering Inn directly connects to Access to Basic Needs Such as Housing, Jobs, and Food, which was identified within its most recent assessment as one of the priority areas for Placer County.
Dr. Muller says the clinic team see patients with a range of medical needs, with one of the most common being cellulitis, a serious bacterial skin infection. He recalls one patient who had originally visited The Gathering Inn for other needs but had a festering wound on his arm. He initially shrugged off medical attention, but through patient persistence, Dr. Muller was able to coax him into the clinic to have his wound treated.
“When you show a genuine sense of care and kindness, they will let you care for them,” he said.
Dr. Muller says that while it may be injury or infections that bring clients in, what keeps them coming back is the trust they establish with them. He says socializing also has its own healing properties.
“They like to come in and say ‘hi.’ They like to hear that they are ‘okay,’” he said. “Part of what we do is reassure people.”
When asked what developed his strong sense of community, Dr. Muller credited his stay-at-home mother and psychiatrist father for their “strong parenting.” He says he was also an avid reader as a kid and gravitated to books that championed tales of right and wrong. But Dr. Muller has experienced his own adversities, too. He and his wife, along with their three children, lost their second home to the Camp Fire, which tore through Butte County in 2018. The Camp Fire is known as one of the deadliest and most destructive wildfires in California’s history. Seeing the devastation to the community, Dr. Muller helped create Medispire Health. The clinic provided medical care to survivors of the Camp Fire, and still offers support in various capacities today.
But to him, these aren’t heroic efforts. They are just the natural things to do.
“I like when people feel well cared for,” he said.