Thursday, January 18, 2018

Emergency room shuffle

      I wasn't surprised to read of a woman being left at the bus stop outside of the University of Maryland Hospital in downtown Baltimore.  Emergency rooms are many times the places that are forced to deal with the social problems of the cities in which they exist.  Homeless people, alcoholics, drug abusers, mentally ill and often just mentally confused persons find their way to hospital ER's.  Many, many years ago I was a social worker at Providence Hospital in DC and had the ER as my area of responsibility.  When many of the above persons showed up at the ER I was called after they had been check out and the ER was not going to admit the person.  My job was to see what resources the person had to safely leave the ER.  Often this meant giving them a cab voucher to take them anywhere but the waiting room of the ER.  However, often these were people who had been brought from one the DC's board and care homes that were refusing to take the person back.  The homes had not been able to find a nursing home to take these indigent persons because they didn't meet the skilled care requirements but the medical needs were beyond the capabilities of the board and care provider.   The b&c provider had to resort to calling an ambulance to have the elderly person taken to a local ER and then refuse to take them back.  Past the responsibility to the hospital ER social worker.
     So what does a young, inexperienced 20's something social worker do?  Ever try call the DC Department of Human Resources at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon?  Call DC Village the public nursing home in DC that had a waiting list of over a hundred elderly persons?  The common way people came off that list was by dying.  Not infrequently when we couldn't find a family member or friend (more like never) to come and pick the person up the hospital was forced to admit the elderly person at least until Monday and DHR could be reached.  When I was able to reach a family member I was told of the difficulties they had in caring for their parent and the guilt they experienced in seeing their parent bounced around in the failed health care system.
      After experiencing this too common problem for a few months I decided the situation needed some attention and I started calling the local TV stations to see if they could do a story on this problem.  The assignment editor at WMAL TV (Now WJLA) said he would have one of their reporters contact me to discuss a possible story.  The reporter called me a couple of days later and arranged a time to meet to discuss the possible story.  When we met the reporter stated that the complexity of the story might be good for a multi day investigative report.  Passed on to their investigative reporter I was able to identify many different angles to the story and identify people to talk with for their report.  A 5 part series was put together, promoted by the station for a week, ready to air and then guess what happened?  Nixon decides to resign!  The station had to shelve the series for one week to cover the Nixon resignation news which of course took up much of their local news.  The station didn't want their reports to get lost in that national news.  When the report aired that last segment focused on DHR and their not addressing the issue impacting this elderly population and ended with a reporter chasing the head of DHR through their underground parking area trying to get a comment.
      Seems like the shuffle continues.


bearmom32 said...

And that was BEFORE the Reagan administration gutted mental health treatment funding, as well as housing funding.

duanestclair said...

As I remember the deinstitutionalization movement was to close mental institutions and have the money transferred to community based services like half way houses. The institutions were closed but the money was never transferred to community mental health centers.