Homeless outreach succeeds with creativity, diligence, compassion

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A year ago, Brother Francis Shelter began offering new services to address the physical health and wellbeing of our guests.

In May 2016, Alaska Regional, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, Providence Health & Services Alaska, and Southcentral Foundation partnered with Catholic Social Services, Anchorage Neighborhood Health and Municipality of Anchorage to create the Healthcare & Homelessness Partnership. In March 2017, three new projects began at Brother Francis Shelter that stem from this partnership.

A new medical respite area opened at the shelter with 10 beds to provide rest and healing for patients who exit the hospital and experience homelessness. Catholic Social Services saw this model work with great effect in other parts of the country. Three partners — Alaska Regional, Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and Providence Health & Services Alaska — share the cost of the program. Renovations were made, and the hospitals asked other partners for support. Design and construction partners donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations.

In the first 10 months of the medical respite program, 59 patients stayed in respite. Of those 32 exited to permanent housing. This program takes pressure off busy hospitals with full beds and limited staff. Guests have a space to recover and work with case managers to find housing. Those who have left our program for permanent housing are thriving. In the words of one guest, “Now that I’ve gone through respite at the shelter, I’m grateful. I was comfortable and I wasn’t afraid.”

At the same time that the medical respite opened, a full-service clinic opened at Brother Francis Shelter — staffed and operated by Southcentral Foundation. The clinic is open five days a week, eight hours a day, and serves all who walk through the doors. It provides urgent care, care for chronic conditions like diabetes, and referrals for higher-level services. It also offers emergency care when needed.

In the past 10 months, the clinic has had more than 1,340 visits. Even if we underestimate and guess that 10 percent of those prevented an emergency room visit, we are talking about 134 ER visits avoided, and approximately $82,200.

Health is a critical part of wellbeing and is related to homelessness. We are so grateful to Southcentral Foundation for taking this step to provide care for the most vulnerable in our community.

Finally, the third element of the partnership that began a year ago is transportation. Patient guests in medical respite take rides to and from appointments as a part of that program, provided by Catholic Social Services. Patient referrals at the Caring Clinic also use these rides at the shelter. Transportation was planned as part of the Healthcare & Homelessness partnership, knowing our emergency medical system is often overwhelmed.

In a 10-month period, Catholic Social Services provided 1,081 rides for medical referrals from the clinic last year. It is difficult to estimate how many of those cases might have otherwise resulted in an ambulance call. Estimating an average EMS call at $2,000, our lowest estimate of savings due to these clinical services is $216,000.

A low estimate of the cost savings as a result of our clinic and taxi service is nearing $300,000 to the community over just 10 months.

Transportation services are currently paid out of pocket by Catholic Social Services — with your donated dollars — for $19,769. We are proud to report this number. All of these numbers illustrate the amazing role that community partners play in changing the lives of our guests and the dynamics of our community.

The Healthcare & Homelessness Partnership is changing lives across our community. It proves that great results can happen with creativity, diligence and compassion. Please extend thanks to these partners for their work and dedication to our neighbors. As always, our thoughts and prayers are with our guests. We send love to all of you this Easter season.

The writer is executive director of Catholic Social Services in Alaska. For more on CSS, call 222-7300 or visit cssalaska.org.

'Homeless outreach succeeds with creativity, diligence, compassion'
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