OhioHealth, Lutheran Social Services open medical respite center for homeless patients

Emma Scott Moran
The Columbus Dispatch
Jacqui Bastion, right, director of care management at OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, and Sue Villilo, assistant vice president of community-based services at Lutheran Social Services, pose for a portrait inside a room at the homeless medical respite center Nov. 6. at Lutheran Social Services in Columbus. The 16-bed unit, operated in partnership with OhioHealth Grant Medical Center, was scheduled to open Nov. 16 and will serve homeless people needing a place to recover from medical procedures or otherwise needing respite.

Lutheran Social Services and OhioHealth have opened a medical respite center in downtown Columbus where people without homes can recover from illness or surgery.

Starting Nov. 16, homeless patients who are discharged from an OhioHealth hospital will be able to recover for up to 45 days in one of the center’s 16 beds at Lutheran Social Services' Faith Mission homeless shelter, 245 N. Grant Ave. 

“We think it's so important for people to have a place to go where they can safely heal,” said Sue Villilo, assistant vice president of community-based services at Lutheran Social Services. “We had planned this well before COVID and really made an intentional decision when COVID hit that we wanted to continue with this.”

As director of care management at OhioHealth, Jacqui Bastian is responsible for planning the discharge of patients to a home or facility after their hospital stays.

“It became a crossroads for our team because often there wasn't anywhere to discharge (homeless patients) to. It wasn't the right thing to do to send someone out to recover on the streets, and even a shelter wouldn't be the safest place for them,” Bastian said.

Bastian began researching medical respite centers – of which there are only three in Ohio and about 100 in the country. Without a proper place to go, homeless patients have a stay at an OhioHealth hospital about four times longer than those who aren't homeless.

That not only tied up beds at OhioHealth hospitals but also created situations in which patients sometimes would wander hospital halls due to boredom, Bastian said.

The decision to pursue a solution became a no-brainer when Bastian learned the cost of staying in respitewas only about $120 per day, compared with about $1,800 a day at a hospital.

“It was just mind-blowing,” she said. “That was the easy argument to make when people saw the figures. It's like, 'How can we not do this?' "

Bastian visited the Health Center at Faith Missionthree years ago and spoke with Villilo about their shared interest in providing medical respite. This fall, OhioHealth donated $350,000 to Faith Mission to cover the startup costs of the respite and will continue to provide money for future operational costs. 

Cleaning wounds, arranging transportation for follow-up appointments and getting proper nutrition are some of the hurdles homeless patients can face after being discharged.

Michelle Heritage, executive director of the Community Shelter Board, said homeless patients discharged from the hospital also lack in support of the day-to-day necessities that family and friends normally help with, such as getting food, going to the bathroom and showering. She called the partnership "wonderful" and said it would benefit OhioHealth, Faith Mission and patients. 

In addition to tending to patient's medical needs, the center will provide caseworkers who will help patients secure housing, employment and connections to community resources and assist with substance-use disorders, Villilo said.

“The goal of the medical respite center is really twofold: One is that we help someone regain their health, and second is that we help them exit this program into their own housing, break that cycle of homelessness, care for their physical health long term and have an improved health outcome,” she said.

The center can help bring health equity to the community, Villilo and Bastian said.

“We're thinking of this as a starting point and believe that as we see evidence of improved health outcomes, evidence of cost savings to hospitals, that we will begin to replicate the medical respite program to accommodate more people,” Villilo said.

EScottMoran@gannett.com

@emmascottmoran