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Medical respite programs give homeless a place to recuperate

Marie Carr was homeless on the streets of Springfield when she lost her balance and fell a few weeks ago.

Carrying her belongings and her emotional support animal — a rabbit named Lacy — Carr walked to Jordan Valley Community Health Center.

She was X-rayed and learned her right foot was broken.

Knowing it would be difficult for the 62-year-old to heal back on the streets, Carr’s doctor and health care coordinator referred her to the Women’s Medical Respite, a small shelter that offers a safe, clean place to recuperate.

At the respite, Carr would be able to rest, have access to nutritious food, transportation to medical appointments and case management.

“I couldn’t manage on the streets,” she said, nuzzling Lacy’s white fur. “This is a godsend. I don’t know what I’d do without this place.”

The Women’s Medical Respite was created a few years ago by a group of volunteer nurses and MSU nursing students. It is housed in a three-bed apartment at The Kitchen’s emergency shelter.

For homeless men, the Salvation Army has the Harbor House Medical Respite program. Cox and Mercy hospitals each have a bed reserved there for men who are being released from the hospital but still need some recovery time and aftercare.

The Springfield News-Leader visited with Carr on July 2, the day before she moved into her own apartment. While staying at the Women’s Medical Respite, house manager Tina Crandall helped Carr fill out housing applications and find the apartment.

“We are a maximum 21-day program,” Crandall said. “We work on either trying to get into housing, at least get housing applications filled out or getting into a residential care facility, if that is needed.”

Also staying at the respite on that day were Janetta Stevens and Jessica Newport.

Stevens, 67, has kidney failure and goes for dialysis twice a week. She had a heart attack and stroke last year. She was recently hospitalized with pneumonia and referred to the respite upon release.

Stevens will have surgery to put a port in her arm for dialysis soon, so it will be a few more weeks before she leaves. Till then, she and Crandall will continue to work on a housing plan.

Newport, 38, was shot in the face two years ago. Her face was shattered, as she puts it, and she has had at least 30 reconstructive surgeries. About a week ago, she had another surgery on her eye. She asked that her photo not be taken.

Newport was recently asked to leave the residential care facility where she lived and had nowhere else to go. While Newport recovers from the eye surgery, Crandall is helping her find a more suitable residential care facility.

“To be able to rest and have people around you that are calming and understand and helpful — it means a lot,” Newport said. “Not everyone is like that. People are mean. It’s great here. I love it.”

All three women raved about the treatment they’ve received from the staff and volunteers at the Women’s Medical Respite.

“They all are just great, wonderful,” Stevens said. “They work with you and are just as sweet as they can be.”

Carol Daniel, a retired Missouri State University nursing instructor, helped create the respite program a few years ago.

“At the time, I was working with MSU nursing students in the community,” Daniel said. “We saw the need of the homeless that were just being released from hospitals with no place to go.”

Daniel’s students researched the problem and possible solutions for a year. They pulled together a task force back in 2014 with representatives from the hospitals, shelters and the community.

The result of that task force were the men’s and women’s medical respite programs.

The Women’s Medical Respite is its own 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. It pays The Kitchen, Inc. only a “minimal utility fee,” Daniel explained. And that is currently being covered by a grant with The Kitchen and Salvation Army.

Its annual budget is about $60,000, and the bulk of that is the salaries of its two paid staffers.

“We do have volunteers from both OTC and MSU, from all disciplines that need volunteer hours,” Daniel said. “And some (volunteers) from the hospitals.”

Volunteers from the community are needed to bring dinner. Call 417-225-7409 to sign up for a meal or to learn about other volunteer opportunities.

To make a tax-deductible donation, send checks payable to “Women’s Medical Respite” to: Women’s Medical Respite, P.O. Box 385, Springfield, MO 65801

Jeff Smith, community relations for the Salvation Army’s Springfield chapter, was part of the task force put together by Daniel and her students in 2014.

As the committee brainstormed possible solutions, Smith said he went to the Salvation Army major at the time and asked if he could offer up a couple of beds at Harbor House.

The result was a partnership between the Salvation Army and Cox and Mercy, with each hospital having access at all times to at least one bed. If more beds are available and a hospital calls with a need, Smith said that person will be given a bed.

“It’s a great partnership,” he said. “(It) was created around this idea: If you and I go into the hospital with the flu or some other illness, they usually discharge us before we are 100 percent better. We go home and recover and have the comforts of a home with heat and cool and food …

“The homeless don’t really have a place to go and recuperate,” he continued. “A lot of times when they go back to the streets to recover, it doesn’t take and they have to go back to the hospital.”

Men are referred to the Harbor House Respite Care Program by their doctors. It is only for men who have been admitted to the hospital and are being discharged.

Men stay for a minimum of 14 days. It is up to their visiting doctor if that stay should be extended, Smith said.

The hospitals send the patients with their medicines and send health care workers to do all the follow-up care.

“At the end of their respite care, and if they are interested, they can apply to Harbor House (program for homeless men),” Smith said.

Last year, the program and The Kitchen were awarded a grant from Community Foundation of the Ozarks that allows for The Kitchen’s visiting nurse to also make visits to the men’s respite program.

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