The four hospital systems in Sacramento have teamed up with WellSpace Health to address a long-standing challenge for the region’s homeless: Where can they go to get the conditions needed to recover after a hospital visit?
As of this year, the answer was a spacious, well-lit hub at 4990 Stockton Blvd. in Sacramento. Nearly five years in preparation, this new recovery care facility cost $9 million to purchase, renovate, and furnish. Funds for the project came from Dignity Health, Kaiser Permanente, Sutter Health, UC Davis Health, government sources, and loans obtained by WellSpace.
“Homelessness is what they call a sinister problem, a multifaceted problem that is difficult to solve, and I don’t think there will be solutions unless we all come together with our collective resources and with the community and work together to try to solve it,” said Dr. Susan Morin, interim dean of the School of Medicine at the University of California, Davis.
The building is named after longtime homeless advocate Gregory Bunker. Bunker, who died in 2010, led St. Francis House for 21 years, serving the homeless residents of Sacramentos.
A large graphic image of him greeting patients as he arrives in the hotel lobby captures excerpts of his favorite phrases. Few of them include “belief in miracles,” “forming the seeds of community,” and “calling us to love and work.”
Speaking at Wednesday’s ribbon-cutting party, Jesse Ben Bunker said, “I can’t think of a better way to honor the memory of my father than with this place dedicated to overcoming adversity and hardship, and I hope it gives people the opportunity to be great.”
Wellspace has already started taking patients for 100 or so beds on site. WellSpace has acquired a variety of bed types to cater to patients, and there are lockers where they can lock their personal belongings.
The facility has a number of amenities for patients. They can access the Internet on desktop computers in the Enablement Room. There is a snack room where patients have access to items such as soup, coffee, yoghurt or fruit 24 hours a day. They can also gather in one of the seven rooms to watch TV, play board games, or read books.
WellSpace CEO Jonathan Porteous, which served nearly 125,000 Medi-Cal enrollees and uninsured residents in the Sacramento area last year, said hospitals arrange trips to the “Bunker” for patients, or WellSpace case managers go to pick them up.
Often, he said, riding in a car is a way for case managers to establish a connection with a patient they can’t get when they type information on a computer in the office.
alternative to shelters
So far, hospital systems have worked with local shelters to get beds for those whose injuries could worsen if they immediately return to the streets, Porteous said, and WellSpace has rented space from the shelters to place its staff there to provide care.
Computer technician Joe Clymer of Sacramento said he went through a rough patch two years ago and needs shelter and health services after a hospital stay. The services they received at the shelter were very limited compared to what the non-resident residents of the new Gregory Bunker Care Transitions for Excellence center would receive, Clymer recalls.
“I’m amazed,” Clymer said after touring the basement. “There is a lot of open space. There are day rooms, and there was a computer lab near and dear to my heart. I am a technician. I have done volunteer work in places for people out of prison who need help filling out job applications. … They did a great job as They were, but now they can improve on that.”
How does homelessness affect health?
Under the previous arrangement, 50-60 beds were available, Porteous said, but this new facility makes room to increase that number and expand to accommodate other types of patients. WellSpace and hospital systems are now looking to provide recovery care for patients who were seen in emergency rooms but were not sick enough to be admitted to hospital.
“We are designing a 25-bed program as a pilot,” he said. “Essentially, if someone comes to the emergency department and doesn’t really need to be in the hospital, but the providers and the emergency department might be worried[about being released on the streets]they can say, ‘I’d like to go for three to Five days to this safe, clean place and start taking this drug” or “I think you’re really exhausted and need three days to recover in a safe, clean environment. They’ll prescribe that, and then we’ll get someone in for that time.”
In general, homeless residents have higher rates of illness and, on average, die 12 years younger than other US citizens, and in many cases, homelessness is caused by injuries and illnesses people suffer, according to the National Health Care Council of the Homeless. .
WellSpace has a team of case managers who work closely with patients to ensure they receive the benefits they qualify for and to find housing for them when they leave. Patients can stay for up to 90 days if medically necessary, but many simply need time to get a course of antibiotics or allow the wound to heal.
Do you want to help?
If you would like to help patients at The Bunker, you can contribute board games to the Gregory Bunker Care Transitions Center for Excellence. Jonathan Porteous, CEO of WellSpace Health, said any toys donated must be new, with the plastic wrap remaining on the box, to give residents the joy of everyone opening something for the first time. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.