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HomeLocal NewsRecord heat means longer hospital stays for homeless people

Record heat means longer hospital stays for homeless people

Circle the City said multiple factors affect how long patients wait to be transferred to a shelter bed after being discharged from a hospital.

PHOENIX — When a person who lives on the streets gets sick, they can end up in a hospital. Once better, organizations work with them to get them discharged and transferred to a shelter where they can continue to heal.

But during the record-breaking heat, some patients experiencing homelessness have gone from waiting hours to waiting days for their next bed.

“It’s not uncommon to have three to four people waiting when we first start the morning, that are waiting for a shelter bed, or what we call placement, a place to go that’s safe for them,” said Dr. Frank LoVecchio, an emergency doctor at Valleywise Health Medical Center.

If somebody goes to an ER and then gets better, Dr. LoVecchio said they “generally try not to discharge them to nowhere, back to the street or in the middle of the day, because they’re going to come right back and it’s just not the right thing to do.”

MORE INFORMATION: Phoenix is seeing its hottest July ever recorded

But this July, when there were more than 2,143 emergency room visits due to the extreme heat, the process for patients experiencing homelessness to get a bed was “the worst we’ve seen in a while,” Dr. LoVecchio added.

Stephanie Martinez, senior director of community outreach and strategy with Circle the City, a nonprofit that assists the homeless community, said multiple factors affect how long patients may wait to be transferred to a shelter bed after a discharge.

“There have been a few times where we may have been at capacity, but for the most part, we have bed availability,” Martinez said.

Circle the City partners with seven hospitals across Maricopa County, installing health navigators within the hospitals to help homeless patients coordinate a safe and comfortable discharge, Martinez said.

In partnership with the nonprofit CASS, Martinez said they have six hospital beds set aside for patients who are homeless. At their respite center, which includes two medical wings, they have 100 beds designated for those who need specialized care.

“There are times where the patient may refuse to go to one of these hospitals set aside beds,” Martinez said, which makes their work in trying to assist them hard.

Both doctors and organizations expect hospitalizations to increase as the homeless population and temperatures continue to rise.

“We see an increase year after year,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, sometimes the resources just aren’t keeping up with the increased need in the community.”

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