Working Together to Reduce Non-Urgent ED Visits
By Jessica Henry, Communications Specialist
Among the challenges that homeless people face, consistent access to healthcare is perhaps one of the lesser thought of issues. Bethesda Mission Medical Clinic exists to address our guests’ medical needs and help them get established with health insurance and a primary care provider (PCP).
“When guests come into Bethesda, the last thing they’ve usually taken care of is their health,” Medical Clinic Manager Carol Steele said. “They may have had conditions like diabetes or asthma their entire lives but just haven’t taken care of it. When they come to the Mission and know we have a medical clinic, all of a sudden it becomes a priority because there’s someone here to help them.”
We have Registered Nurses on staff to care for basic medical needs and case management challenges of our men and women guests. Beyond that, we partner with both Penn State Hershey and UPMC Pinnacle to provide our guests with quality healthcare.
A team of doctors and medical students from Penn State Hershey run the “Lion Care” program, which offers general and specialty care at our Medical Clinic. They run a weekly clinic to provide internal medicine visits to fix big medical issues and start guests on sample medication.
The relationship between Bethesda and Pinnacle began seven years ago when Pinnacle approached Bethesda to ask for help with reducing Emergency Department (ED) visits with people connected to Bethesda. Carol works with Maria Chianos, a social worker from UPMC Pinnacle’s Community Initiatives Department. Maria and Carol meet once a month to go over the list of ED visits of those connected with Bethesda. Carol tells Maria if the person is actually staying at Bethesda and whether or not the Medical Clinic staff sent the person to the ED.
“When we first started working together, a huge number of people were going to the ED for anything—a cold, cough, sore back, prescription refill,” Carol said. “Over the seven years, the list has become much shorter.”
“We feel highly confident that non-urgent ED visits have been reduced,” Maria said. She and her department are working on how to track that through statistics.
Non-urgent visits to the ED use up time and resources that could be spent on actual emergencies, and it tends to be repetitive behavior. “It’s immediate, no waiting 2 weeks for an appointment,” Carol said. “For the homeless population, it’s a safe place to be with air conditioning or heat, bathrooms, cafeteria, etc.”
Our Medical Clinic staff work to educate guests as to the purpose of the ED and how to get set up with a doctor. It adds an element of dignity if they have a place to belong.
Beyond monthly meetings, Maria helps our staff get guests connected with the social services they need, whether that’s a PCP, housing assistance, etc. “I don’t know that we could do what we do without Maria and people like her,” Carol said. “She’s been a faithful advocate for seven years.”
“It’s a fabulous relationship,” Maria said. “Collaboration is the key to the physical health of a community.”
UPMC Pinnacle also sends two Insurance Enrollment Specialists to help guests get insurance through Medicaid. “We have to break the cycle and part of it is getting them established with insurance and their own provider,” Carol said. “We’re not doing our job if they leave here with no doctor and means of getting a prescription.”
Through these partnerships and collaborations, we are able to provide our guests with quality healthcare and resources to be able to thrive when they leave the Mission. As Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”
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