A Kalispell nonprofit has created a middle ground for patients discharged from the hospital but in danger of ending up back in the emergency room.
This fall, the ASSIST Center opened the doors of a 10-bed facility that offers guests with a doctor’s recommendation a bed and three meals a day as they recover from an illness or injury. The service, affiliated with and supported by the Kalispell Regional Foundation, is free to patients.
Director of ASSIST Jane Emmert said the nonprofit’s focus is to link patients to services that help them manage their health.
“We’re not a medical facility, we’re not a shelter,” Emmert said. “When someone is in a medical crisis, the family often doesn’t know where to look for help. We know the resources and come alongside them to make those connections.”
She said ASSIST staff and volunteers are like detectives, figuring out what social needs patients have that could lead to health issues. They meet with participants to decide whether they need groceries at home, help finding rides to doctor appointments or signing up for insurance assistance like Medicaid.
“Anything they need to regain their health and independence,” Emmert said.
That could mean connecting a participant to resources like the Agency on Aging, affordable housing programs or Meals on Wheels.
Medical resources, such as home health services, meet patients who need continued medical attention at the center.
“Someone might be here a night, it might be three days, for somebody else it might be three weeks,” Emmert said. “Length of stay depends on the person’s need and their doctor’s recommendation.”
ASSIST BEGAN three years ago to help socially and physically isolated Flathead residents find help they didn’t know existed — whether they’re leaving the hospital or trying to manage their health from home.
Curtis Lund, the founder of ASSIST, said that effort began in people’s homes.
Lund was appointed to Kalispell Regional’s board of trustees roughly five years ago.
“A hospital is a complicated operation,” he said. “I began to learn of the frustration of patients being discharged but not doing the necessary things to recover from their illness.”
Nurses and doctors typically can’t follow patients to their home, where he said there’s signs of what could cause a person to fall into hospital readmission cycles.
“Going beyond non-medical needs — that was a gap that wasn’t being fulfilled,” he said.
But to go to a hospital with a proposal for a non-medical program, “Well, everybody kind of looked at me cross eyed for a while, it was kind of a new concept.”
Lund first visited a couple’s home roughly four years ago.
The man had recently been released from the hospital and was bedridden. The man’s wife wasn’t strong enough to get him in and out of bed. The couple couldn’t afford home health services, so when the man needed to get out of bed, his wife would call a friend, their preacher or find a neighbor.
If no one was available, they would try to do it alone, which sometimes led to damaging falls.
Lund spent several hours watching the couple try to balance their needs in their home.
“Then, I talked to Kalispell Regional’s medical equipment supplier and learned that with a doctor’s prescription, the man could get a hospital bed, one that he could get in and out of without help,” he said.
Lund said that’s when he knew a non-medical resource for patients could be successful.
For two years, the nonprofit floated independently. Emmert and Lund began the program from scratch, meeting in coffee shops, empty Kalispell Regional offices and kitchen tables, identifying community resources. It turned into Neighbors Helping Neighbors, an ASSIST volunteer-driven program that pairs volunteers with people who leave the hospital and need help finding stability.
Last January, the nonprofit came under Kalispell Regional’s umbrella, giving it the financial boost to open the center.
In the last year, ASSIST has more than doubled its reach — from helping roughly 200 care receivers in 2015 to more than 500 during 2016. ASSIST has grown from a staff of one to three and a team of more than 20 volunteers.
Lund said while the program is too new to track financially, he believes it saves the hospital more than its cost since the people who need ASSIST typically can’t afford their hospital bills.
He said the more the medical community learns about ASSIST, the more referrals the service receives — helping people get out of hospital beds and stay out of hospitals.
“This is a total experience,” Lund said. “But it’s working.”
To volunteer or for more information, go to http://www.assistflathead.org/about-assist/.
Reporter Katheryn Houghton may be reached at 758-4436 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.