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Kaiser Permanente, PeaceHealth give $590K for temporary housing for Lane County residents with severe mental illness or serious medical conditions
Register-Guard - 12/8/2017
Dec. 07--Health care providers Kaiser Permanente Northwest and PeaceHealth are giving more than $590,000 to Eugene-based nonprofit group ShelterCare to provide short-term emergency housing for local homeless people with severe mental illness or serious medical problems, the organizations announced Wednesday in a joint press conference.
ShelterCare will use the money to place 30 to 40 of these vulnerable people in private-market apartments for six months to a year while they apply and wait for federally subsidized permanent housing, said Susan Ban, ShelterCare's executive director.
"It's a bridge," she said.
The grant also will help pay for services to try to get at the root cause of their homelessness. The services include mental health therapy, help making and getting to primary care appointments, and money management and job training.
Ban called the one-year grant of $590,935 "a very significant investment" for her agency, which has an annual budget of $8.5 million and 140 employees.
The grant from Kaiser Permanente and PeaceHealth has "really been a miracle for us," Ban said.
ShelterCare is working with local property managers and landlords and hopes to start placing clients in apartments next month, she said.
ShelterCare will sign the apartment leases, Ban said.
Cindy Williams, 48, participates in ShelterCare programs and is president of ShelterCare's consumer council. She credits ShelterCare for saving her life. "If I can be saved, anybody can," she added.
Williams said she grew up in McKenzie Bridge and was severely abused as a child and in an adult relationship. She said she has been diagnosed with anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder related to the abuse.
Williams said she started using methamphetamine in her teens and was addicted to it for more than 30 years. In February she will celebrate "a year of being clean and sober," she said.
She said she came to ShelterCare five years ago after living in a tent for several years. She said she had lost her housing and children.
"All I knew was I was a chaotic mess and I wanted to die," Williams said, adding that she attempted suicide several times.
Her problems didn't disappear once ShelterCare found her an apartment, she said. But the confusion began to lessen as she obtained counseling and help managing her medications when she felt suicidal.
Williams said ShelterCare gave her a place to live and a sense of purpose.
"Now today, I'm able to give back to the community," she said. "I'm part of the community, and I'm able to help other people who are part of the program."
Williams had been among Lane County's chronically homeless.
Of the 1,529 homeless people identified in Lane County Human Services Commission's annual count in January, 640 were chronically homeless. Of the 1,529 total, 435 had a mental illness and 254 people chronically abused drugs or alcohol.
When people don't have shelter, they often use costly community services, such as PeaceHealth'sSacred Heart Medical Center emergency room at $237 to $1,900 a visit; Sacred Heart's behavioral health unit at $2,613 to $3,045 a day; or the Lane County Jail at $171 a day, according to October 2016 figures from the Lane County Human Services Division.
"Data demonstrates that housing drops health care costs by more than 50 percent," Ban said.
Homeless people typically don't have health insurance or are covered by the Oregon Health Plan, the government-funded health plan for low-income and disabled people.
So reducing emergency room and behavioral health unit visits lowers government costs for OHP patients and PeaceHealth's cost for providing services to people who have no insurance or money.
Kaiser Permanente and PeaceHealth are paying half of the $590,935 grant amount each as a community benefit contribution. To maintain their nonprofit status, nonprofit health organizations must demonstrate community benefit, such as providing care at no or low cost, or community health education.
Kaiser Permanente and PeaceHealth officials said there's a strong connection between safe housing and good health, and supporting an agency such as ShelterCare helps link homeless people to housing, health and social services.
"This is about access -- access to housing, medical care, behavioral health support and other services," said Rand O'Leary, chief executive of PeaceHealth Oregon.
The joint grant is the latest example of collaboration between Kaiser Permanente and PeaceHealth, which announced last month they had reached an agreement for local Kaiser Permanente patients to use PeaceHealth hospital services. State regulators required such an agreement before Kaiser Permanente could sell commercial health insurance plans in Lane County.
Kaiser Permanente plans to start selling group insurance plans for workers at large employers in Lane County late next year.
Dr. Imelda Dacones, president and chief executive Northwest Permanente, said PeaceHealth and Kaiser Permanente will monitor the ShelterCare program and may renew the grant after the first year.
Kaiser Permanente is a health care provider and nonprofit health plan, serving more than 11.3 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. It is based in Oakland, Calif., and has 570,000 medical and 260,000 dental members in Oregon and Southwest Washington.
PeaceHealth is a Catholic-affiliated nonprofit corporation based in Vancouver, Wash., and the dominant health care provider in Lane County, where it owns Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield, three other hospitals, a doctors group and other services.
Follow Sherri Buri McDonald on Twitter @sburimcdonald . Email firstname.lastname@example.org .
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