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It can be hard enough to recuperate from an illness or injury when you have a roof over your head. Try doing it when you’re homeless.
Living in a tent, on the streets or in a car is less than conducive to healing, and often results in hospital readmissions at a time when hospitals are under pressure to rein in costs.
This is where a 3-year-old Colorado Springs nonprofit, Ascending to Health, comes in. Founded by longtime homeless health-care provider Gregory Morris, Ascending to Health provides shelter for homeless men and women being discharged from local hospitals, and wraps them in services that include transportation to specialists’ appointments, connections to a primary care provider, education to manage chronic health conditions and procurement of benefits like Medicaid. There’s also a budding housing program, helping the nonprofit fulfill its mission of breaking “the cycle of homelessness through quality healthcare, sheltering and case management.”
“It’s very successful in helping the homeless population stay healthier, and decreases readmissions to the hospital and emergency room,” said Jennifer (Massara) Huskinson, Community Case Manager for UCMemorial Hospital and a member of the Ascending to Health board. “It’s extremely needed and very important, especially with an increase in the homeless population.”
Last year, the program served 70 patients, including 58-year-old Ruth Frazee. She came to Colorado Springs from California to escape an abusive relationship and was supposed to stay with a friend. Instead, the “friend” took her belongings and abandoned her. Frazee, who ended up sleeping in public parks, had major health issues to start with, including diabetes and COPD. But it was an infected foot that landed her in the hospital.
“My foot was turning black,” she said. She worried what would happen when she was released from the hospital. “All I knew is that I couldn’t stay in the park anymore. It’s dirty out there.”
A hospital referral got her into Ascending to Health, where she not only recuperated from her foot injury, but also received treatment and support for her diabetes and a place to live through the housing program. In her tidy apartment, which she decorated in her favorite colors, she receives visits from Ascending to Health staff to make sure she’s keeping up with her medications and health-care plan.
She’s also given up smoking and is exercising.
“I was so sick when I went into the program,” said Frazee, whose story is featured in the most recent annual report from the Colorado agency that administers Medicaid. “My health is so good now. My diabetes is under control, thanks to Greg. I consider Ascending to Health as friends. They’re like family to me.”