Accidents Will Happen: The Need for Respite Care in Central Alabama

Firehouse accident 5.28.14

                                                                                                                                                            (photo courtesy of al.com)

There was a car accident in front of the Firehouse Shelter this morning and four men were injured in that accident. Of course my first thought was hope that everyone involved will be ok…but when I learned that the four men had been taken to the hospital, I began to wonder about something else–something I might not have been concerned about had the four men not been standing in front of an emergency shelter for men.

If their injuries are severe, where can they go for rehabilitation?  You see, we really don’t have many choices for people who are homeless when they are not sick enough to keep in a hospital but yet they are too sick to release them to the streets.

I don’t know yet about the extent of injuries for these men, but I have been informed that 3 of the 4 will need surgery. I’ve had two fairly major surgeries in my life; one was outpatient and the other required several days of hospitalization. For the outpatient surgery, I couldn’t be released without someone to “take me home.” When I got home, I went to bed and for several days afterwards had someone help me with basic living skills like bathing and preparing meals. With the inpatient surgery, the release was much the same…hospital released me to go home and rest and I was only released because I had someone at home who could care for me. I was lucky enough to have plenty of medical insurance, but what if these men don’t?  Hospitals can not afford to keep uninsured people indefinitely.

What happens for these men who probably call the Firehouse Emergency Shelter home? None of our emergency shelters are set up to accommodate much in the way of specialized medical care…not really even extended “rest.” There are individual beds for clients, but they are not in individual rooms, and sleeping in a common area with 50 or so other people in crisis really doesn’t contribute to a great deal of rest. Our local shelters make certain clients are offered 2 – 3 meals per day, but there is no one to prepare special meals. In several of our emergency shelters, volunteers prepare a meal for 50+ people and bring it to the shelter, and while that is generally a tasty meal, clients are certainly not asked what their taste preference is for that meal, and few individual dietary restrictions are observed.

With each of my surgeries, I was instructed to keep the incision “clean and dry,” and doing that required assistance to keep the dressing dry when I bathed and required assistance to change the dressing when necessary. Again, our emergency shelters are simply not equipped with extra staff members to help with bathing or changing a dressing. It is not because shelter staff don’t want to help, but they are responsible for the care and safety of 50 or more people at any given time…

Our community needs emergency shelters…but we also need something called Respite Care, and we have none. Consider taking a look at Center for Respite Care or this medical journal article or this Respite Care in Philadelphia, or this piece from the University of California.

Until we get Respite Care here, my sincere hope is that you will think about a time you needed extra attention when you were sick, whether that was with an accident or a surgery or just a nasty cold. Now focus those thoughts and feelings on the situation of these four men at the Firehouse Shelter…

One last thing…think about what our community could look like if there was a home available for everyone who wanted one…

 

Michelle Farley

Executive Director, One Roof

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