They Think No One Cares, but ‘Hoag is Proving Them Wrong’

Determined to enhance outreach and care to the homeless, Hoag assumes key role in California’s ‘Whole Person Care’ Program by hiring ‘Community Care Navigators.’

Every day, homeless men and women end up in hospital emergency departments, including Hoag’s. In fact, Hoag cares for more homeless people on a day-to-day basis than any other Orange County hospital. Sometimes they are genuinely in need of medical attention, while other times they simply have nowhere else to go.

Their sheer numbers and unique issues – the homeless often carry no identification and have no place to go upon leaving the hospital – place a major strain on the emergency department’s staff, available patient beds and other hospital resources. Now, Hoag has taken a leading role in addressing this urgent situation.

Hoag officials recently received grant money to hire three “Community Care Navigators,” licensed social workers who interact directly with the homeless when they arrive at the emergency department. The Community Care Navigators also engage the homeless one-on-one in their encampments.

The new positions at Hoag were made possible by the Whole Person Care (WPC) pilot program, a matching-grant program from the State of California’s Department of Health Care Services. The program seeks to combine and enhance communication among hospital emergency departments, including Hoag’s, homeless shelter programs, CalOptima, community clinics, the Orange County Health Care Agency Behavioral Health Services and Public Health Services, as well as recuperative care providers and other community-based providers to improve access and navigation of services for the homeless population.

“Oftentimes, the homeless people we care for think that no one cares about them, but Hoag is proving them wrong,” explained Carla E. Schneider, MSN, RN, CEN, director of Hoag’s Emergency Department in Newport Beach.

“By sending our highly trained, compassionate Community Care Navigators directly to the county’s homeless residents, Hoag is demonstrating its heart for everyone in our community.”

“This line of work takes very special people with gigantic hearts. I wanted angels on earth,” said Schneider.

So far, she’s hired two of those “angels” – Kristy Gamboa, MSW, and Monika Fatu, MSW. Kristy worked with the homeless on Skid Row, and for several years Monika served Long Beach’s sizable homeless community.

“They are our boots on the ground,” Schneider said. “They play essential roles in coordinating the care that homeless residents receive when they come to our emergency department, as well as coordinating with outside agencies and resources that are partnering with us in the Whole Person Care program.”

Importantly, Schneider noted, Hoag’s Community Care Navigators go directly to the homeless to help coordinate the resources they need, as part of an effort to reduce unnecessary visits to the emergency departments.

“It’s critical to meet with homeless residents in their own environment, where they’re the most comfortable,” Schneider explained. “The key is spending time with them and earning their trust, and showing them that we really do care about them.”

Hoag’s Community Care Navigators are strengthening Hoag’s collaborative relationships with various facilities and nonprofits throughout the county that assist the homeless. “We’ve made sure to hire highly experienced Community Care Navigators because they understand the resources that are available better than anyone else and can connect the client to those resources,” Schneider said. “They know how to cut past the ‘red tape’ to really help this vulnerable population. This benefits everyone by helping guide homeless residents to the appropriate resources, and by reducing the pressure on our emergency department and staff.”

“In helping the homeless, it is so important to look at the person as an individual and to show them the respect and dignity they deserve,” Kristy said. “For each individual, we must ask what is best for him or her. They have so many issues they are dealing with.”

Added Kristy: “As Community Care Navigators, we’re here to help them. We don’t pass judgment. It is so important to show respect and to gain their trust."