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Sacred Heart and Catholic Charities work together to help homeless heal with respite program

SPOKANE, Wash. - In a program that is gaining statewide recognition and being used as a model for other cities, the transitional respite care partnership between Sacred Heart Medical Center and Catholic Charities has been helping homeless folks heal after a hospital visit for several years already.

"Someone is not thinking of their health if they don't know where they are going to be sleeping at night, or where the are going to get their next meal," said Sara Clements-Sampson, Sacred Heart's Community Benefit Manager. She says once their basic needs are met, then they can focus on their chronic conditions and begin to focus more on getting out of their current conditions.

The hospital reports that as many as 5 percent of all their emergency room patients are homeless individuals, that once treated  are left with the options of staying excessive amounts of time at the hospital to heal there, though they lack the resources to do so, or they return to the streets.

"If you are out on the streets and your wound is constantly dirty, there's more of a chance for it to get infected," said Clements-Sampson, "with this respite care program, they can actually heal and they don't come back to the hospital with something much worse."

The patients are taken to the House of Charity, where they observe different hours than the general population that comes in, they are given three meals a day, and access to other basic needs.

"I was in the hospital for congestive heart failure and lost my place and couldn't pay rent," said Randy Thomas, who says he  would have wound up on the streets after he was released from the hospital.

He has been in the program for just over a month and says he's been healing well.

Another patient, Bobby Flowers who was homeless prior to his hospital visit, had surgery to remove glass from his foot.

"I slept underneath that bridge for a couple of days," he said, "but with one eye open."

One critical piece of the program, is that in addition to the medical care and opportunity to heal in a clean environment, the House of Charity case workers line the patients up with housing opportunities and other resources.

"They helped me get my ID card back," said Thomas.

Flowers notes that his time at House of Charity is winding down, he recently received the news that he would be getting permanent housing.

The director of the House of Charity says there's another more subtle aspect to the program that has proved successful as well. It helps the patients build a community.

"It gives them somebody to talk to, and somebody that will listen, and that is where you can get someone that wouldn't have before, engaged in case management," said Heather Schleigh.

In 2018, the program helped 183 men and 58 women. A total of 29 of them were placed into permanent housing.

Catholic Charities says it likely saved the hospital millions of dollars that would have likely never been paid back.

The hospital notes that it does not discharge patients based on ability to pay but says there is always a need for empty beds.


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