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Homeless Motel-Clinic Program Honored

Two innovators who started a program in Orange County to help homeless people recover in motels after they’re discharged from hospitals will be honored today with the James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award at a ceremony in Sacramento.

As part of the award, Gene Grigsby and Paul Leon will receive $125,000 for their program.

“Most people call it respite care, we call it recuperative care,” Grigsby said. “The way to think of it is, if you or I were in a hospital, we would be discharged, then someone would look after you until you could go back to work. So this is a place for the homeless to go until they can function again. That’s critical for homeless people.”

The recuperative program is set up in motel rooms throughout Orange County — in part because those motels are in a familiar neighborhood for many of the homeless, and in part because it’s an inexpensive and simple way to set up recovery care for them, Leon said.

“Mostly we did it that way because of need,” Leon said. “We had no money [to set up a program], and we did what we had to do.”

The two estimate they’ve saved 63 hospitals more than $13 million over the past four years. The rate of readmission is down significantly, they said, with only 11% of their 1,900 patients eventually returning to the hospital.

“The numbers are so incredible, we had to look twice at them,” Leon said. “The recidivism rate is off the charts. We had one patient who went from 16 [hospital stays] in an eight-month period down to zero.”

Leon said the award could help spread the idea to other parts of the state and country.

“Our biggest hurdle is hospitals understanding what we do and that we’re available,” he said. “The award validates the work we’re doing, but also it allows us to get the word out. I mean, we’re not only saving hospitals millions of dollars, but we’re giving much better care.”

That may be music to the ears of a hospital director, he said.

“At one point in my life I was a hospital administrator,” Leon said. “And I wish we had this kind of thing when I did that. We were too busy running the hospital. We think more administrators will take the time to understand the problem [now].”

The program has three hubs — in Orange County, Los Angeles and a recently opened one east of the San Gabriel Mountains, Grigsby said.

“It saves a lot of money for hospitals, which allows them to focus on other things,” Grigsby said. “But from a policy perspective, if Medi-Cal made this an eligible reimbursable service, or if hospitals were not allowed to discharge to shelters, that would make a huge difference for the homeless.”

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