Virginia Mason Supports Medical Respite Program

Lovett Harris and Jonathan Kilian
Lovett Harris (left), mental health specialist, and Jonathan Kilian, clinical social worker, stand near the portrait of Edward Thomas.

Where does a homeless patient go when he or she is too sick to return to a shelter or the streets, but no longer requires hospital care? In Seattle, many of those patients go to Edward Thomas House, a unique, harm-reduction medical respite program, located at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center.

Services provided at Edward Thomas House include post-operative care, palliative care, cancer treatment and therapy for wounds and infections. Unlike a nursing home, there is no bedside care. Patients must be able to walk or operate a wheelchair. Although people can stay for up to three months, the average stay is about three weeks.

In 2018, Virginia Mason referred 19 patients — 14 men and five women — to the medical respite program. Collectively, they received 623 days of care and support at the facility.

One such patient was Donald S., a fifty-nine-year-old Michigan native. Donald lost his job after periodically missing work for cancer treatments for a tumor on his voice box. Unable to pay for health insurance and rent, he was homeless for two weeks before his social worker referred him to Edward Thomas House.

“Edward Thomas House and the team of care providers have been the best thing for me. I don’t know how I would have made it this far without them. The safe, supportive environment and passionate staff have helped provide me with hope and inspiration at a very challenging time,” said Donald. “Whether it’s been helping ensure I get to and from my cancer treatments, making sure my feeding tube is clean, regularly checking on me and asking how I’m doing, I know I’m in a good space and for that I’ll be forever grateful.”

Programs like Edward Thomas House started in the 1980s, but have grown in the last decade to around 80 facilities nationwide. One of four facilities in Washington state, Edward Thomas House is one of the country’s largest, with 34 patient beds. In addition to addressing patients' medical needs, the program's social workers connect patients with other supports, including mental health care, drug treatment and help with permanent housing.

“Edward Thomas House is an invaluable resource for Virginia Mason and our community. It is reassuring to know that our care managers and social workers can refer appropriate patients to this top-notch medical respite program located just down the street,” said Virginia Mason’s Kellie Meserve, RN, director, Care Transitions. “Whether for planned short-term or time-limited care and support, the comprehensive and compassionate services they provide help people who are ill or disabled regain their health and find time to access other basic needs.”