After a hospital stay, most people want to recover in the comfort of their own home. But that is not an option for a patient who is experiencing homelessness.
That’s where medical respite centers come in. Medical respite care programs offer short-term housing and medical care for people who are too ill or frail to recover from an illness or injury on the streets but not ill enough to be in the hospital.
Share has provided five respite care rooms in Clark County since 2011 through a partnership with PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center: One at Share House, two at Share Homestead and two at Share Orchards Inn.
With homelessness on the rise in Clark County, more respite rooms are needed in Southwest Washington, according to Share’s executive director Amy Reynolds.
A $250,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente of the Northwest is about to give Share’s respite program a needed boost, allowing it to become a medical respite Medicaid provider, establish a financial process for billable services and integrate full-time nursing services.
The program also received a $50,000 grant and technical assistance for a year through a national Kaiser initiative to support medical respite programs.
The grants are part of a larger effort — called the Medical Respite Initiative — to support medical respite providers across all Kaiser Permanente markets.
“We know housing is a part of health, and if you don’t have a shelter over your head or housing with good conditions, it really does affect your health outcomes,” said Tracey Dannen-Grace, community and social health director with Kaiser Permanente. “We’re just really pleased to help support and contribute to Share’s development in their model in medical respite and to bring some state-of-the-art training and technical assistance to build upon their already successful program.”
In addition to medical care, respite rooms provide wraparound services for patients, including rent and housing assistance.
“Part of the benefit I see in partnering with a community-based organization for a program like this is the wraparound services a nonprofit can provide,” Dannen-Grace said. “Medical respite is really a step-down facility with health care services wrapped around an individual 24/7, with a care team, stable housing and other supports that benefit patients.”
Medical respite stays typically last one to three months, and all health care, medical care, housing and food is supplied during a patient’s stay, she said.
Share wasn’t the only local nonprofit to receive a grant through Kaiser’s Medical Respite Initiative.
Lower Columbia Community Action Program in Longview received $300,000 to increase staff personnel for client housing case management, aid individuals in need of home care assistance and achieve ADA accessibility for their medical respite building.
Central City Concern in Portland received $100,000 to support data analysis infrastructure to measure service outcomes.
The investment comes at a critical time, according to Dannen-Grace.
“Things have been vastly exacerbated because of COVID-19,” she said. “More and more people are homeless, and more and more people are experiencing low economic status right now and having issues.”
Additionally, having more respite rooms will open space in crowded hospitals and reduce readmission rates, she said.
Dannen-Grace remembers one patient at a Kaiser hospital who returned seven times for an open wound.
“When you think of hygiene and an open leg wound, you would not think that an individual would have to visit their emergency room seven times before that heals,” she said. “But to someone on the street who’s exposed to shelter conditions and tent conditions, especially during the rainy season, your mind can take you every place of what someone deals with and what prevents cleanliness.”
Share will continue to provide its five respite rooms in partnership with PeaceHealth, but the nonprofit will begin growing its respite services. Eventually, the organization hopes to open a facility dedicated to providing respite care, according to Reynolds.
“The funding that Kaiser provided is multiyear and will allow us to hire a consultant to become a Medicaid-eligible organization,” she said. “We won’t move away from PeaceHealth, but we will look at enhancing that partnership so we can be an even greater benefit to the community.”
Kaiser has also been helping Share achieve some short-term goals by providing consultants and assisting with data collection and analysis, Reynolds said.
Now, Kaiser is considering a second round of investments in 2023.
“If that happens, we will bring all the entities together to learn from each other and grow the whole ecosystem,” Dannen-Grace said. “This is a commitment we are making toward building the infrastructure and the knowledge base around this so that it can continue and grow.”
Ultimately, a bolstered respite program at Share means more support for people experiencing homelessness in Clark County.
“It’s really been a lifesaving resource,” Reynolds said. “People have come to us with a variety of issues, everything from broken backs and broken legs to strokes and car accidents. It’s really been lifesaving for the people that we’ve been able to serve.”
This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.