Medical respite program aims to help homeless, alleviate crowded ERs

A new medical respite program is working to alleviate crowded emergency rooms.
Published: Nov. 16, 2022 at 12:32 AM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - A new medical respite program is working to alleviate crowded emergency rooms.

The program from Charles Drew Health Center and Siena Francis House provides temporary care for unsheltered people who are too sick to live on the streets but not enough to stay in a hospital. It aims to redirect people without housing away from unnecessary emergency room visits to more appropriate care and shelter.

“We know a fair number of our unsheltered clients receive care in the emergency room. This service can complement the care that they need and keep them from having to go to the emergency room,” said Patrick Peer, a deputy director for Charles Drew Health Center.

“One of the guests we have right now was in the hospital for a few months. She has some ongoing needs, and she needs some follow-up care with specialty doctors. And so being in the medical respite program she’s able to rest. She’s able to get extra support,” said Jamise Wagner, who oversees the medical respite program, a two-year pilot program.

According to data from CyncHealth, the tracked homeless population in Nebraska had about 4.5 hospital readmissions per person in 2020, which means they went back to the hospital within 30 days of being discharged.

The data showed most admissions were for substance abuse, mental health exacerbations, and chronic diseases, which Charles Drew can treat outpatient.

“With stretched resources as it is, it could be detrimental to care of other folks,” said Peer.

For those who are not homeless, this could free up emergency rooms and lessen wait times.

The referral process for this program starts with a hospital. They reach out to Charles Drew and Siena Francis to see if someone qualifies. That process takes about a day.

To qualify, someone has to be homeless, able to do their daily activities to a large extent, and be willing to work on finding permanent housing with Siena Francis case workers.

“Once the individual is accepted into the program, the hospital will discharge them, and the hospital will provide transportation to the shelter. And then they will be enrolled into the medical respite program where they will be living in a semi-private or private room,” said Wagner.

And there’s no limit on how long they can stay.

“We’re not going to discharge anyone who isn’t ready and hasn’t found the housing that’s appropriate for them,” she said.

There are five beds reserved at Siena Francis. Three of them are in use. Program directors say they plan to expand after what they hope is a successful pilot.