The Foundation has supported many COVID-19 related projects at Cook County Health from providing meals to staff stretched to their limits to buying much-needed PPE. One of the most innovative was the development of a pop-up medical respite shelter for homeless individuals and families infected with COVID-19. Cook County Health has always served many in the homeless population. The pandemic created striking challenges for homeless people and for those who care for them.
In early Spring, with COVID-19 surging, the system faced an untenable situation. COVID+ homeless patients had no where to quarantine and receive on-going care. The field hospitals created by the State and City could not provide the wrap around care needed by these individuals and families, including dealing with mental health and substance use issues. Once diagnosed and after hospitalization, as needed, where were these people to go? Individuals and families could not go to congregate homeless shelters. Living on the streets would make them sicker. They needed to be able to isolate and receive the on-going care they needed.
With the South Side YMCA, housing providers, and other health care providers, Cook County Health established a medical respite shelter to meet this immediate need. The South Side YMCA repurposed its temporarily closed facility to meet quarantine standards. The 24/7 staff included medical and behavioral health providers so that patients could address both physical, mental health and substance use issues. The partnership facilitated moving shelter residents to longer term shelter when they were out of quarantine and able to make the move. Capacity for telehealth medical and behavioral health visits was set up to facilitate engagement with providers.
The pop-up medical respite shelter served 51 people. All completed their quarantine and treatment, and all moved to stable housing. In June, the South Side YMCA needed to prepare for its public reopening, and thus the shelter could not continue in that space. However, the project vividly showed both the need for this service and how it could be successfully developed. With that learning, Cook County Health has now opened a small medical respite shelter to facilitate the transfer of patients from the hospital to short term intensive housing and care and then, once well enough, referral of patients for long term stable housing. Partial funding for the South Side YMCA shelter and the new program was provided by grants from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois and the Chicago COVID-19 Response Fund. We are grateful for their support.