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New Program In Washtenaw County Aims To Help The Homeless After Being Discharged From The Hospital

The Shelter Association of Washtenaw County helps over 1,100 homeless people a year.  That help usually comes in the form of shelter, food and some medical assistance.  But as 89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan tells us, they recently launched a new pilot program that provides a safe and comfortable environment for the homeless to recover after being discharged from the hospital. 

"I’d be out on my wheelchair with a backpack or something rolling down the street."

David Compton had his lower left leg amputated about a month ago at Michigan Medicine.  The 33-year-old from Detroit was homeless when he was originally admitted for an infection and reconstructive surgery.  For the last three weeks, he’s been living at the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County’s Recuperative Care Center.  He shares a room with three other patients. 

David Compton: They come here and help me do my pressure wraps on my leg and everything like that. The will be helping me do my shrinker sock, when I get my surgical sock. We get meals brought-up for us so we don’t have to go downstairs. With me being in a wheelchair, it's a bit more crowded downstairs, where they all eat lunch on the first floor. But they bring-up our meals for us, they help with medication. If something is going on and the clinic is open, we can see the doctors right away.

The recuperative care pilot program launched in late July and so far has provided housing and medical treatment to six homeless people who have either been discharged from Michigan Medicine or St. Joe’s Mercy Ann Arbor Hospital.  Dan Kelly is the executive director of the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and explains why the program was launched at the Delonis Center in Ann Arbor. 

Dan Kelly: A few years ago, we noticed that the population that we worked with, there were people coming in more and more folks with disabilities. More and more folks being existed from the hospital. Over the last five years, the percentage of individuals entering the shelter went from 46% to 77%. We also saw an increase in adults 55 and older, that’s increased by 40% over the last three years.

Fifty-four year old Gail Johnson from Ann Arbor is currently one of five patients in the pilot program.  She was homeless three months ago when she was admitted to Michigan Medicine for excessive nausea and vomiting.  Sitting in a consultation room at the recuperative center, Johnson explains what she was originally planning on doing once being discharged from the hospital.

Gail Johnson: Definitely was going to have to pitch a tent and camp.

The pilot program has room for up to six patients at a time and hopes to accommodate up to 80 people during its first year.  Patients have to be referred to the center by hospital officials.   The cost of operation will be about $151,000, which is being funded through several groups including the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation of Michigan.  Valerie Johnson is the medical case manager for the Shelter Association of Washtenaw County and says the program is already having a positive impact on the community.

Valerie Johnson: People are finding out about it in the community. I know social workers in the hospitals are finding out about it and learning to use it as a resource, learning to make referrals to us so we’re building partnerships with the hospitals, the clinics and all of the key players who are involved. And it helps the hospitals to discharge patients sooner and know they won’t be coming back with infections because they weren’t able to recuperate.
"Thanks David, just checking in today. How’s that wound doing?"

Becca Fleming is a nurse with Packard Health.  They’re one of the on-site partners at the recuperative center.  Fleming says things are going pretty well so far, especially two-months into the program.  But she adds that it’s never too soon to think about making improvements.

Becca Fleming: It takes a lot of collaboration, I think that’s a huge challenge and again as we potentially increase our beds that will continue to grow as a challenge. So it’s a lot of again, we can address clinical needs but it’s really seeing the bigger picture and coordinating with the appropriate people to meet all their needs.

Dr. Ravi Vadlamudi is also with Packard Health and treats patients at the recuperative center.  He says the services they offer are vital for patients to recover in a timely manner.  But he says there are some issues that need to be addressed.

Dr. Ravi Vadlamudi: You run into a lot of small little obstacles like, 'Is the medical record document that we’re keeping, is that filling the needs that we have?' But other issues that we have are how do we deal with narcotics for instance? Some patients were discharged on narcotics and these are sort of open rooms. How do you deal with narcotics in a shelter that has of course a lot of patients who have substance abuse problems from the past and where do we go with that?

The average stay at the recuperative center for patients is expected to be about three months.  In addition to offering temporary housing and medical treatment for homeless people who need a safe place to go after being discharged from the hospital, the recuperative program also helps them transition to permanent housing.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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