MERCED — Being homeless is never fun. Being homeless and sick can kill you.
For the homeless who end up at Mercy Medical Center Merced, the problem isn't their care at the hospital. It's their care after discharge that can make the difference between getting well or dying.
The hospital has worked hard to make sure the homeless aren't just discharged back to the streets, where their medical needs may not be met.
State law requires hospitals to provide referrals for follow-up care for all patients. A law focusing on the homeless prohibits hospitals from dumping patients. It also requires them to recommend ways to improve the homeless person's transition back to the community.
Susie Brooks, a clinical documentation specialist at Mercy, makes sure every patient admitted to the hospital has a discharge plan.
Within 24 hours of being admitted to the hospital, every patient, including the homeless, is evaluated for discharge.
"We determine and plan for discharge depending on what a patient's specific needs might be," Brooks said.
In the case of a homeless person, Brooks said, where that patient goes depends on his needs.
"If possible, we make arrangements for them to go to the homeless shelter," Brooks said.
But the homeless shelter only takes people who can walk into it. If a person can't do that, the hospital faces the problem of releasing a homeless patient when that person needs long-term care.
Brooks said no long-term-care facility in the county takes uninsured patients.
"We only discharge patients if it is safe for them," she said.
One source that has stepped up to help the homeless is the congregation at Sierra Presbyterian Church in Merced.
"Hospitals can get into a bind when they have nowhere to discharge a homeless person to," said Candace Adam-Medefind, a member of the church.
The church has worked with the homeless for years, Adam-Medefind said. One case the church helped with was an elderly homeless man who fractured his hip.
"He had nowhere to go. We ended up taking him and working with him," Adam-Medefind said. "He stayed at the church about six months. We were able to finally get him into housing."
The church has only about 25 members, and that limits the congregation in how much help they can give.
"We have no paid staff, we are work- ing with an all-volunteer staff," Adam- Medefind said.
The church got some help this year with grants from the city of Merced and from Mercy.
"We will be able to house seven homeless medically needy people with these grants," Adam-Medefind said.