Soapbox

Senate bill is not a solution to dumping of homeless patients

Lara Woods said she was “dumped” after undergoing double mastectomy surgery at UC Davis Cancer Center while she was homeless.
Lara Woods said she was “dumped” after undergoing double mastectomy surgery at UC Davis Cancer Center while she was homeless. rbenton@sacbee.com

Sacramento County physician Sharad Jain correctly identified a major challenge facing those who provide medical care for the homeless: How to ensure that these vulnerable individuals stay on a path toward healing once they no longer need the services of a hospital (“Homeless patients discharged to the streets? Hospitals can do better,” Viewpoints, June 25).

Jain is right to say that “being cleared to leave the hospital is not the same as being healed” and that “being discharged to the streets without a plan, not only hinders recovery, but often makes the health issues worse.”

He suggests that Senate Bill 1152 would help resolve the challenges of homelessness in California, which has 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.

Peggy Wheeler

Hospital social workers, case managers and planners work hard to ensure that homeless patients receive food and clothing, appropriate physical and mental health screenings and, whenever possible, referrals to community partners that offer temporary housing and outpatient medical and behavioral health treatment upon discharge.

SB 1152, which was approved by the Senate Health Committee on June 26, requires hospitals to have a special discharge policy for homeless patients. But it does little to ensure the existence of these community-based resources. Due to that lack of services, this bill may unintentionally cause emergency departments to be even more overcrowded.

As Jonathan Porteus, CEO of Sacramento-based Wellspace Health, recently said: “While they’re in the hospital, they’re getting spectacular care. They go from world-class treatment into a community that is not ready for them.”

Caring for homeless individuals in our community is a shared responsibility among hospitals, county behavioral health agencies, housing organizations, food banks, social service agencies, community support organizations, civic leaders and state and local elected officials. We all must work together to address this overwhelming need.

Peggy Broussard Wheeler is vice president of rural healthcare and governance for the California Hospital Association. She can be contacted at pwheeler@calhospital.org.

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