The USF College of Nursing recently partnered with the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Center to help reduce non-emergency 911 calls to their facility. On average, the center – housing 160 beds for homeless men and women – had about three calls to emergency medical services every day, most commonly for side effects related to not having access to their medication.
“Now it’s about two to three times a week,” USF Assistant Professor LaTiena Williams said. “I’ve been there since August and I've called EMS four times to date.”
The College of Nursing as able to launch a new non-emergency program in January to provide clients with an opportunity to prioritize their health before they reach a critical point in care. It's called the Red Shield Center Respite Care Program. The program, led by Williams, offers free care coordination, health education, assessments and resources, such as transportation to doctor visits.
“Now clients come to me first and I am usually able to assist them without the need to call 911,” Williams said. “This program has taken a strain off of our county’s first responders. It allows them to focus on serious emergencies.”
“The partnership between The Salvation Army and USF College of Nursing has been a game changer for our community,” Elle Kane, The Salvation Army social services director, said. “Our homeless population finally has a chance to receive medical attention with this partnership that will put them on the right path for better health outcomes leading to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.”
After completing a social needs assessment over the summer, Williams was able to identify gaps in the clients’ health care that the current system was unable to address. Non-medical related needs such as transportation were causing gaps in access to care. Making it difficult for center patients to attend appointments or receive medication from pharmacies. This led to critical but preventable problems for patients with chronic disease. Who often went weeks without medication.
Thanks to the Red Shield Center Respite Care Program, these patients can now receive routine care that helps prevent complications and emergency situations. Thus reducing strain on the county’s EMS service.
“Access to health care is the biggest problem. Most of the clients have health insurance provided by the county. But what about access to it?” Williams said.
Williams also established relationships with community partners, such as BayCare Community Health, to help provide clients with otherwise unfeasible or inaccessible routine and preventive care. The program helps clients manage their health and prevents future health problems. Through mobile health units and on-site vaccine clinics.
The center is run by Williams and undergraduate nursing students each semester. They visit the Red Shield Center weekly as part of their service-learning project. The students educate the clients on various topics, such as diabetes, hypertension and the impact of stress. The project is mutually beneficial. Students have an opportunity to engage with community members and in return, clients can learn about their health.
“It was eye opening to see some of the healthcare issues that our homeless population faces. Especially on such a local level,” said Mary Zent, recent Bachelor of Science in Nursing graduate. “It helped bridge what we are learning with the real impact we can have in our community.”
Williams plans to expand the program by adding an on-call doctor from Tampa General Hospital in a couple of weeks and adding volunteers, including Zent, who was inspired to return post-graduation as a volunteer.
“Education is prevention,” Williams said. “Even if someone is a lawyer, it does not mean they are health literate. When we educate the public and community, that’s where a lot of diagnoses are found.”
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