Skip to main content
Visit the Midday Edition homepage

New State Law Is Forcing San Diego To Grapple With Its Lack of Recovery Options For Homeless Patients

February 21, 2019 1:21 p.m.

GUEST: Lisa Halverstadt, reporter, Voice of San Diego

Subscribe to the Midday Edition podcast on iTunes, Google Play or your favorite podcatcher.

Related Story: New State Law Is Forcing San Diego To Grapple With Its Lack of Recovery Options For Homeless Patients


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

We've all seen and heard disturbing stories of homeless people being dropped off in the streets after a hospital stay sometimes still in hospital gowns in an effort to stop that. A new state law requires hospitals to figure out where to direct homeless patients for recuperative care but the problem here in San Diego is there are very few places to send homeless patients to get the care and resources they need after a hospital stay. Joining me by Skype is Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halberstam whose latest article examines the issue and Lisa welcome to the program.

Thanks for having me. What exactly does this new law require hospitals to do.

So Senate bill eleven fifty two which was signed into law by obviously now former Governor Jerry Brown last fall basically requires that hospitals across the state establish plans for discharging homeless patients and understand what resources they could direct them to. It also requires that they provide meals and whether appropriate clothing to homeless patients when it's needed which has certainly been an issue we've heard stories of people literally being in hospital gowns dropped off in cold weather and they also have to offer transportation to a homeless individual who's being discharged if it's when within 30 miles or 30 minutes.

One thing that most of the folks I talked to about this law point out is that it doesn't require that people who are homeless being discharged from hospitals or next necessarily provided with a place to go. But there needs to be some sense of what resources are available to direct them to and with these new requirements is there any funding from the state attached to the new law.

Do the hospitals have to pick up the tab for the meals and the clothing themselves there is no new funding.

And yes hospitals do have to pick up the tab. Although many of them that I spoke to for this story told me that they were already providing some degree of these services already. Now there are just mandates now.

So the new law has apparently here in San Diego put a spotlight on the lack of recuperative beds for homeless patients. What have you found out about those numbers.

Well it's been very interesting trying to look into this because one thing I found is that there's not a list of recuperative care programs in San Diego County despite the fact that we have the fourth largest homeless population in the nation. And there are many people cycling through and being discharged from our hospitals. What I was able to find is there are probably about a few dozen of these types of beds in our community but it's far short obviously of what the need is according to lots of the sources that I spoke with.

How big is the challenge that San Diego county hospitals are facing then how many homeless patients are being treated in hospitals around the county.

Thousands. To give you a sense I spoke with a top leader at Scripps Mercy Hospital and she told me that her emergency departments alone in Hillcrest in Chula Vista served at least 7000 homeless patients last year. So we're talking about a lot of people that are coming out of the hospital and obviously not all of those 7000 people in the emergency department were inpatient but it really spotlights just how big of a need there is now in in your article you tell the story of Richard Bolt and how recuperative care helped him recover from a hospital stay.

Can you tell us the story so Richard Bolt had previously spent a couple years living on the street and in his truck and he had a surgery last year and after that surgery he was able to get into this recuperative care center and he said he's taken life skills classes and taken advantage of counseling and therapy and he's getting rides to his medical appointments and he really says that this has helped him get his life together. Another person that I talked to whose story was just really compelling to me was Darren Polson. And he actually had a stroke last May.

And he stayed in the hospital for a month and a half. And after he got out of the hospital he was actually back on the street for a week and then just happened upon an outreach worker which he is so thankful for now connected him with interfaith community services. And he went and he was able to stay there he took advantage of their services there. He actually had to get therapy to learn to swallow and speak more clearly again. Well recently he moved into an apartment in San Marcos and he got emotional talking about just how grateful he was for this program.

So what are hospitals and community leaders planning to do about the situation what kinds of conversations are taking place about this issue.

Well there are lots of conversations about what additional resources could be brought to bear. The Salvation Army Family Health Centers of San Diego Interfaith Community Services and also Father Joe's villages and a couple of the those providers already providing some sorts of services to people getting out of the hospital who are homeless but they're looking at could they expand programs could they add beds that would serve this population could they even open new facilities.

And certainly local officials are playing some role in some of these discussions as well. County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher who during his campaign had called for more recuperative care beds told me that he's having lots of meetings with folks including hospitals to ask if there's anything more that they could do.

There's one thing in your article that's a real question mark and it concerns the San Diego Rescue Mission. They recently closed their recuperative beds because they said they couldn't keep them full. Now how is it possible with all the need that hospitals have for these beds that rescue mission couldn't keep them full.

Well to take a step back quickly the San Diego Rescue Mission longtime homeless serving organization in San Diego was one of the first groups locally to come forward with a recuperative care program. They opened theirs in 2009 and they've served about two dozen patients at any given time. But what we're hearing from the rescue mission is that in more recent years they've struggled to keep their beds full and there are a few reasons for that. For one the patients apparently that were coming in had greater needs and the rescue mission didn't have adequate medical staff to help all of those folks.

And in addition to that there wasn't really a sustainable financial structure behind this. So one of the other groups that I looked at interfaith community services up in North County has contracts with hospitals where they basically set aside a number of beds and they pay for those beds whether or not they're being used the way that the rescue mission program was structured those groups could pay per day for a bed and only if they used it. And if you're thinking about you know any business owner you know is trying to make ends meet.

It's difficult to pay your bills if you don't necessarily have contracts or business that you can rely upon every month in your reporting Lisa.

How quickly do you see hospitals and community leaders moving on this issue.

That's a good question. There are lots of people talking about this right now. This problem is now out in the open. But to get a lot of these things moving may not be so easy. So I'll definitely be keeping tabs on this to see how quickly it all comes together. But to open a new program you know can take months to a year.

I've been speaking with Voice of San Diego reporter Lisa Halberstam. Lisa thank you. Thank you.