Santa Monica is known for it’s iconic Pier, the famous Third Street Promenade and the countless number of homeless people that walk through the city.

In 2016 the City of Santa Monica homeless count found 718 individuals (this year’s count occurred in January and results will be available in the coming months) and many of those individuals make frequent visits to emergency rooms at local hospitals.

Providence St. John’s Emergency Department helped the same homeless man (John Doe) 837 times in five years. Each time, he’d arrive in the ER, receive treatment and be discharged back to the streets. The lack of follow-up care is a chronic problem and St. John’s has partnered with other local agencies to provide a more robust health care system for homeless patients.

Lauren Lewow, Communication Specialist at Providence Health and Services said, “The goal is to help the vulnerable and provide care not just in the hospital but outside of the facility as well.”

Providence partnered with Venice Family Clinic (VFC) and Ocean Park Community Center (OPCC) back in 2007 to work together to find a solution to continue care after medical visits.

OPCC continues to be one of the largest nonprofit agencies to serves the homeless community in Santa Monica, while the VFC provides quality out patient care throughout the Westside.

Together they formed the Westside Respite Center. OPCC converted two large rooms in their SAMOSHEL facility to Respite Care, along with two offices for exam rooms where VFC physicians can provide outpatient services within the same building.

“The man (John Doe) used many different addresses usually the address of a building or office that he slept in front of,” said Providence Director of Community Benefits, Mary Luthy. “We knew that we needed a more valid way of identifying homelessness.”

Part of the solution was creating a position responsible for connecting homeless individuals with needed services. The Respite program at Providence St. John’s Health Center created a Community Care Coordinator position in partnership with OPCC in 2016 to help those who are discharged from the hospital to find shelter for the evening and a connection for services in the future.

Mallnese Tarpley started as the first Community Care Coordinator, she was assigned to the Emergency Department during the evening hours to assist the homeless individuals who came into the hospital and find them shelter and other resources.

“To date, 471 patients agreed to meet with Tarpley about their homelessness,” said Luthy. “Of these, 175 have been placed in shelter and have been connected to services and to housing.”

The goal of the program is to provide additional medical care and support once they are discharged from the Emergency Department. It can be difficult to regain a healthy body when put back on the streets.

Lewow said, “It is also about gaining these peoples trust and having a safe place to sleep for the night. Its crucial they have support when transition from a hospital.”

This year Providence received a grant for another full-time position to be in the Emergency Department. This person will follow the footsteps of Tarpley, to make sure that once patients leave the hospital they have a place to rest, heal and follow up on their medical needs.

With the help of the Respite program, John Doe now lives in another state with his family, and he fulfilled his mothers wish, to see her son again.

“PSJHC caregivers were very happy to hear he has a loving family to return to, and that he was able to go home. We are happy for him and grateful for our partners, OPCC, VFC, the City of Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Police Department Homeless Liaison Team, for being a crucial part of helping this man get home,” said Luthy.

marina@www.smdp.com