The House of Charity, part of Catholic Charities, works with Providence in Spokane to provide transitional respite care after hospital treatment, so that people experiencing homelessness have a place to rest and recover.
Catholic Charities in Spokane, Washington
“Be sure to get plenty of rest.” That’s what we usually hear when leaving the emergency room or hospital after treatment and heading home.
But for some, there’s no place to rest, and no one around to help them recover. This is the reality for people who have no shelter when they are discharged from hospital. For them, the only option is the street, where the environment is anything but healing.
In Spokane, Becky Doughty was working at Catholic Charities and seeing the same people returning to the ED because they didn’t have a safe place to heal. She reflected back on her time as a nursing student, when she had worked a clinical rotation in some of Spokane's least advantaged neighborhoods. She knew the problem facing patients with nowhere to go after discharge, either because they had lived many years without a home or local shelters were closed during the day. As a nurse who had worked at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center, she had an idea to better support their recovery.
Becky found a like-minded partner in House of Charity, one of the Catholic Charities family of organizations that provides shelter, meals, and case management to those in need. She approached House of Charity and said, “Here’s my idea. Is it crazy to develop a respite program together?”
For Rob McCann, executive director of Catholic Charities Eastern Washington, the idea was not just a good one, but something the organization had been doing informally for many years. Becky’s query was the start of a partnership between Catholic Charities and Providence that began with one respite bed, but as the urgent need became apparent, the program grew.
The collaboration involved Becky, Rob McCann and Darin Neven, M.D., an emergency physician at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center. The Transitional Respite Care for the Homeless Program became a reality. Thanks to a grant from the Providence Health Care Foundation, the program is thriving, and patients are enjoying better outcomes with fewer avoidable returns to the hospital or ED.
“We see almost 80,000 people a year in our emergency department, and about 5 percent are living without shelter," says Dr. Neven. "Those without homes use our services for primary care, infections, broken bones, uncontrolled diabetes, or other health issues that have been ignored for too long. With no place to convalesce, the cycle would continue. Now, there is the opportunity to truly get better."
Care provided through the program is not intensive but mirrors the level of support a convalescing patient would normally receive at home. A nurse works with patients to help them manage their health, secure social services, get their wounds dressed, and, for some, begin addressing substance use disorders.
“Once you house a person you relieve a large portion of their stress," says Pete Lockwood, operations assistant at House of Charity. "The health care issues start to subside, and they're able to heal better."
Says Dr. Neven, “Housing is one of the best treatments we have in medicine. It’s important to have a place that can fill that prescription and keep filling it. Otherwise, people are not going to get better.”
For Becky, she’s happy with the outcomes in Spokane, but emphasizes that like-minded people working together could adapt the model anywhere, wherever there are vulnerable people who need a place to heal.