SMR: Shelter for Medically-Fragile Clients

Our life’s most vulnerable moments often take place in a hospital, surrounded by doctors and nurses we hardly know. Whether it be a relentless cough or a major surgery, we can usually depend on the support of a loved one, and a place to go home and rest.

At ShelterCare, we believe everyone – housed and unhoused – deserves a dignified way of coping and healing from medical issues. Whether recovering from a broken arm, leg amputation, or even cancer, no one should have to recover – on the streets – alone. With this in mind, we launched the ShelterCare Medical Recuperation (SMR) in 2013, which provides unhoused hospital patients with a supportive, sanitary alternative to recuperating on the streets.

“It’s almost impossible to heal when you don’t have a roof over your head,” said SMR Team Lead, Bill King. “It makes it hard to clean wounds – bath and shower – and even take medication securely.” Alongside being a safe place to heal, SMR also decreases a patient’s chances of returning to the hospital due to wound infections, illness, and other preventable conditions.

“Most people who enter SMR are in very poor health; and that is because they often don’t see a doctor until their pain is unbearable,” said King. This is common for many people who are chronically homeless, because they often perceive the healthcare system to be scary or confusing. Without insurance, they may think healthcare is outside of their reach, and there is the cost of losing all of their belongings if they don’t have a safe storage place. Many individuals also lack a strong support system; someone caring who can encourage them to get a check-up.

In 2018, SMR’s incredible 10-person team supported 101 individuals who were facing everything from diabetes and cellulitis, to heart disease, amputations, and cancer. Each client was referred to SMR by a local hospital, and provided with their own bedroom, three meals per day, medication monitoring, healthcare coordination, and transportation to and from their doctor’s appointments. “The most important thing SMR provides are staff who truly care,” said Amanda Fogus, SMR
Community Health Worker. “For many clients, SMR is the first place they ever felt like they mattered. We help them feel like people again.”

Last year, a woman named Anna was referred to SMR after being diagnosed with Stage 4 Breast Cancer. Anna was homeless at the time, and went to the hospital after her pain became intolerable. “At first she tried to fight the pain, but it became difficult to avoid,” said King. After finding out she had breast cancer, Anna immediately began chemo treatment, and was quickly referred to SMR so she could stabilize her health in a clean, sheltered environment.

Anna was able to stay at SMR for 230 days, thanks to extended funding from Trillium Community Health Plan. During this time, SMR staff assisted Anna in finding a Primary Care Physician (PCP) who could meet her health needs. “Most clients do not have a PCP when they enter SMR, but 100 percent of clients have a PCP when they leave,” said King. “When a client has a PCP, they are less likely to use costly emergency rooms.”

When Anna moved into SMR, not only was she in poor health, but she also had trouble trusting others due to trauma from her past. However, her time spent at SMR helped her build trusting relationships with staff. Today Anna is in remission, and continues to work on healing her trauma, and building positive relationships with others. She is also working on securing permanent housing through ShelterCare’s Phoenix Program. “What makes it all worthwhile is the success of seeing someone come into our program battle-wounded, and walk out a better person.” King said.

SMR staff prioritize the medical issue at hand, but they also provide clients with the support and encouragement they need to achieve personal goals. In addition to providing medical respite and shelter, the SMR program helps individuals get connected to resources for permanent housing, employment, substance disorders, and other health issues. Recently, the program began offering a Women’s Recovery group to help clients practice self-care, build confidence, and share their personal stories with others. “Our priority is helping people heal, but our clients often leave with more than that,” said King. “We’ve had people walk out with new teeth, prosthetics, glasses, housing, and even jobs.”

On average, a one-month stay at SMR costs the same as a one-day stay at the hospital. Last year, SMR’s caseload of 101 individuals saved the community more than $2,000,000. This life-changing program is made possible by Trillium, PeaceHealth, and donors like you. Would you consider donating today? Donate here.

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One of SMR’s greatest needs is a new driveway. “The driveway is very dangerous, especially for clients who have mobility issues,” said SMR Team Lead, Bill King. A smooth driveway is important because it prevents injuries among medically-fragile clients, staff, and medical professionals who often visit the SMR site. Another need for SMR is new carpet for its housing units. If you, or anyone you know, can assist SMR with a new driveway or carpeting, please call Development at (541) 686-1262 or email development@sheltercare.org.

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