Providing, equipping and operating a hospital emergency room has to be one of the more expensive sides of the business. In a true emergency, life and limb can be endangered. Or patients with a lesser maladies, might need to have fast treatment. They need ample staff and equipment to be able to deal with whatever comes through doors.

When people use the emergency room for non-emergencies, it’s a waste of resources; more importantly, it might tie up services as a real emergency evolves. 

That’s the practical angle to a street nursing program now being sponsored by Adventist Health/Rideout. But there’s a compassionate angle, too: homeless people are more susceptible to illness and injury, but need someplace to be cared for. 

Some statistics:

– Homeless patients made about 100,000 visits to California hospitals in 2017. That’s a 28 percent increase from 2015, according to California Healthline. The increase is attributed to the overall increase in the number of homeless people – up 16 percent from 2015 to 2017.

  In Sutter County, there were 117 hospital discharges where the patient was homeless in 2017 – 10 percent of the total of 1,162. In Yuba County, where the medical center is located, there were 250 homeless discharges where the patient was homeless, out of 12,668 total discharges.

Besides medical illness, it was reported in a recent story, a disproportionate number of homeless are hospitalized for treatment of HIV infections, alcohol and drug addictions, skin disorders, burns, drug overdoses and traumatic injuries.

Ironically, some people are driven into homelessness by medical conditions and expenses; and homelessness and poverty lead to more health problems.

In January, Adventist Health/Rideout launched a street nursing program aimed at getting health care to homeless people. Adventist Health seeded the program with $75,000 and they procured a grant of $100,000 to outfit a mobile clinic. 

Homeless folks who were using the hospital emergency room facilities as a primary care office now have a more practical way to get care: on Tuesdays and Thursdays, nurses set up shop at the Life Building Center in Marysville and at Hands of Hope in Yuba City. They can check vital signs, listen to lungs and heart, check on how wounds are healing ... 

More than that, they act as social workers, connecting patients with physicians and case managers, providing medication boxes and locks and arranging transportation. And they have the opportunity to teach patients about their medications.

If emergency care is really needed, the street nurses call an ambulance and speak to ER physicians so they know what’s coming in. 

They’ve helped 150 patients so far. It’s likely they saved at least one life. They saved a man’s badly infected  eye. They worked with a man with PTSD, who finally agreed to an appointment with Veterans Affairs.

They’re making a difference.

“There’s so many rocks on top of them, they don’t know how to reach up and pull off the top rock.” said Ashten Phillips, patient care coordinator, working with the street nursing program

Homelessness is a serious issue here. This is how you deal with it.

Our View editorials represent the opinion of the Appeal-Democrat and its editorial board and are edited by the publisher and/or editor. Members of the editorial board include: Publisher Glenn Stifflemire and Editor Steve Miller.

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