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New program offers homeless patients a safe place to recover
Stan Rogers, a residential aide at Micah Ecumenical Ministries' respite house, prays with residents before dinner last week. The house gives local homeless people recuperating from illness a place to stay, which speeds their recovery.
AMY FLOWERS UMBLE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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Date published: 6/14/2010
He saw that the homeless often used the emergency room for primary care, and often had repeat inpatient visits.
Pierson said the treatment wasn't just expensive--it also didn't provide the best care.
He recommended that the foundation give money to Micah for the respite program.
"To invest in a program like this makes us better stewards of community resources," said Xavier Richardson, president of the MWH Foundation.
At Micah's respite house, staff members work around the clock to deal with issues of both health care and homelessness. They help arrange for identification cards, housing, prescriptions, social services and more.
For now, the home can serve six people. In five months, it will expand to serve eight.
Patients include people recovering from surgery, those with chronic health conditions and those who are dying.
Chuck Ellis, who manages the respite house, said the program offers dignity and a surrogate family.
Cotter added: "It also ends up being an incredible cost-saving measure. I don't think the community realizes how many dollars are spent on the uninsured or the underinsured simply because they don't have a place to go."
A 2009 study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham found that homeless people admitted to respite programs are half as likely to wind up back in the hospital.
Locally, health care costs for the homeless add up. Lack of regular medical care and difficult living conditions combine to create lingering health issues. One area homeless man, for example, racked up more than $30,000 in hospital costs last year.
Richardson said the respite house wasn't just cost-effective but also a better form of health care. Kramer concurred.
"When you're homeless and you're sick, you have to have a place so you can rest, or you're going to end up back in the hospital, unfortunately, or back on the street--or dead," she said.
Amy Flowers Umble: 540/735-1973
Micah Ecumenical Ministries hopes area community groups will bring dinners for the respite patients. Groups can sign up for one day each month or another schedule.
The respite program also needs volunteers to drive patients to medical appointments. And the staff is seeking donations of cleaning supplies, hygiene items, medical scrubs in all sizes, a lawn mower and a vacuum cleaner.
To volunteer or to donate, call 540/479-8302.
The idea for the respite program had its beginnings about five years ago when a chronically homeless man needed hospice care.
"He was in the hospital and he needed to go home and die," Meghann Cotter said. "But he didn't have a home, and hospice can't come to your tent. There is no way to die with dignity when you don't have a home."
Area churches collected money to rent an apartment where hospice workers could help the dying patient.
"That began a conversation," Cotter said.
Micah Ecumenical Ministries first rented two apartments to help ailing homeless patients, and almost immediately saw the need to expand the program.
Area homeless people in this year's point-in-time count
Cost associated with each lengthened hospital stay
Amount spent on charity care by Mary Washington Healthcare in 2009
Amount U.S. hospitals spent on charity and uncompensated care in 2008
Average cost of a hospital stay in the U.S.