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Medical respite center offers a place to heal

Kaiser Permanente is investing in the care of individuals experiencing homelessness who need a safe place to recover from illness. Pictured, former patient Jason outside of the new Gregory Bunker Care Transitions Center of Excellence in Sacramento.

Jason, 48, had been living on and off with his mother in Sacramento until she passed away in 2015 and he started experiencing bouts of homelessness. When Jason had a heart attack at the end of March this year, he was living in a shelter. He was hospitalized for 12 days and left with a surgically implanted defibrillator in his chest.

“The heart attack scared me,” said Jason, who declined to use his last name. “I had a seizure. After that, I just remember waking up in the hospital.”

Expanding medical respite programs

Medical respite care (also known as recuperative care) provides acute and post-acute medical care for people experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to return to the street, but not sick enough to remain in the hospital. Kaiser Permanente’s support of medical respite care is part of its work to improve access to health care for this population, and one of the many ways it helps improve health in the communities it serves.

With only 133 medical respite care programs nationally — and only 40 in California — there is a significant shortfall in recuperative care beds compared to demand and no dedicated federal funding. 

In March, Kaiser Permanente, Dignity Health, and the California Health Care Foundation announced a 2-year collaboration with The National Institute for Medical Respite Care (NIMRC) to expand the capacity of recuperative care programs and standardize services.

As part of that work, Kaiser Permanente awarded nearly $100,000 each to 6 organizations in Northern California including WellSpace Health in Sacramento. Kaiser Permanente also funded respite care programs run by Community Forward SF, Housing Matters in Santa Cruz, Lifelong Medical in Oakland, Shelter, Inc. in Contra Costa County, and The Gathering Inn in Roseville.

“Managing health care conditions and recovery is near impossible for people recuperating in shelters or living outside,” said Yvette Radford, vice president of Community and External Affairs at Kaiser Permanente. “Kaiser Permanente is committed to providing a safe place for unhoused individuals to receive medical care and other supportive services to help them rest, recover, and heal.”  

A safe place to rest and recuperate

When Jason first arrived at the Gregory Bunker center, he worried it would feel like a homeless shelter.

“My initial thought was for me to rest and get better and leave,” he said. “But it was a very nice place. I got to really rest. Every one of the staff is remarkable.”

The center also works to connect outgoing patients with permanent housing. Jason stayed at the center for 90 days and now lives in his own apartment where he cooks meals his mother once made for him.

Christie Gonzales, chief program officer at WellSpace Health, said the program provides a spectrum of medical care and helps ease crowding at shelters. She said patients are surprised at how nice the center is.  

“It’s new, it’s clean, it’s fresh. There’s so much sunlight. We focused a lot on a kind of flow and creating little recreation rooms so that there are places to watch TV, play games, and read books,” Gonzales said.

“I have hope that once they’ve recuperated with us and healed and they’re healthy, that they continue to sustain their health.”

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