OUR OPINION: Healthy remedy for statewide ill

A hospital's primary role is provide medical attention and treatment to those who are sick so that they may return home.

But when it comes to many foster children, adults with developmental or behavioral issues and fragile seniors, a hospital has too often become a temporary home because the patient -- who has no medical reason to stay -- simply has nowhere else to go.

In a recent story, the Missouri Independent noted SSM Health hospitals in St. Louis had housed five foster children who were not sick, but had been living in the hospital an average of 56 days. On that same early June day, those same St. Louis hospitals had housed 23 adults who were developmentally disabled or had a behavioral issue, for an average of 193 days. Again, on that same day, the hospitals had housed 10 senior citizens who were considered fragile and had been there an average of 403 days each.

The patients shared one thing in common: there was no medical reason for them to be hospitalized; they simply had nowhere else to go.

All of Missouri's hospital systems have been in this position at some point this year, the Independent reported.

Many of these inappropriate placements were the result of years of state funds being cut, low pay and high turnover of staff, coupled with massive caseloads.

In recent sessions, legislators have made good strides to try to address the low pay and staffing issues for providers who care for foster children and mental health clients and are burdened with oppressive caseloads.

But it's merely a starting point; the state's continued attention to this problem is vital in finding a solution.

In an effort to better understand the issue, legislators have directed the Mental Health and Social Services departments to study what effect hospitalizing foster children and mental health clients "without medical justification" presents.

From those reports, the state can better assess the cost and effectiveness of housing these clients in hospitals as well as determine what might be better ways to transition clients' care back into society.

Legislators and social service officials might look no farther than the Capital City for inspiration.

SSM Health St. Mary's Hospital officials say the Jefferson City hospital's policy is to help in any way to house children and adults with no place to go after they have been medically treated.

But they are quick to point out that due to a foundation of support from the United Way and other sources, the hospital hasn't been put in that situation to the extent that their sister hospitals in St. Louis have.

Relationships with Coyote Hill and Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption, two nonprofits serving the needs of foster care children in the Capital City, have helped to place foster children in safe homes, the local hospital officials say.

Another Capital City source, Common Ground Community Building, which has a mission of preventing homelessness and moving families forward, has also helped to secure safe housing for adults who have been treated and need a place to safely land after treatment.

The Capital City's example illustrates how a collaborative effort of the state, medical community and nonprofits can achieve a healthier means to transition patients and clients to safe, stable homes after their medical treatment is complete.

That's a healthy approach to a problem that is afflicting too much of our state at this time.

-- News Tribune

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