Past three months of data do show declines for those calls in the city, year-over-year
Although the figures for the past three months show declines compared to the same months in 2016, the majority of calls for EMS service to homeless individuals still are originating in the city of Sarasota, The Sarasota News Leader has learned.
Additionally, at the end of the first seven months of 2017, the data show that about 74% of the calls have involved people in that city.
July did mark the biggest decrease year-over-year out of the past three months, that Sarasota County Fire Department report says: a drop of 25.3%, with 130 calls in the city of Sarasota compared to 174 in July 2016.
In an Aug. 7 email to Rich Collins, emergency services director for Sarasota County, Sarasota City Manager Tom Barwin wrote, “I hope the July 2017 report will come to represent a future trend,” though Barwin added that “the monthly transport numbers have fluctuated considerably since the data began to be captured.”
Of the past three months, the May report showed the smallest decline in the number of EMS transports of homeless individuals year-over-year from the city of Sarasota: 11.4%, with a total of 124 calls; the May 2016 figure was 140.
In June, the decrease was 14.6%, with 123 calls; in June 2016, the figure was 144, the June data show.
The total number of EMS responses involving homeless individuals thus far this calendar year in the city of Sarasota is 806; the countywide total is 1,088, the Fire Department reported in July.
Altogether, 225 calls this calendar year have been reported in the unincorporated areas of the county and 57 in the city of Venice, the July report says.
The total number of calls countywide just for July was 178, a 23.9% drop from the 234 recorded in July 2016, the report shows.
In June, EMS teams responded to 162 calls across the county for assistance to homeless people. That figure down 20.6% from the 204 reported in June 2016. However, the May figure was 177, a decrease of just 14.5% from the May 2016 total of 207 countywide.
The number of calls originating in Venice in July — five — marked a 61.5% drop from the July 2016 figure of 13, the Fire Department report says.
Over the past 13 months, the July report shows, the 234 EMS calls in July 2016 marked the highest of the period. October 2016 had the second highest total: 216, the report says.
Overall, the Fire Department report notes, 89.3% of the calls for EMS to help homeless individuals in July resulted in transports to a hospital. That compares with 88.3% in June and 87.1% in May.
The May number represented 3.3% of total EMS transports; in June, that figure was 3.2%; and in July, it was 3.5%.
The June report also notes that one patient was transported nine times, while a second one was taken to a hospital on five occasions.
The highest number of transports for a single person in July was eight; however, EMS teams took 25 patients to hospitals on two occasions each, the report notes.
In May, one individual was transported seven times, while a total of 16 were taken to hospitals on two occasions each.
Help for the people behind the numbers
In October 2016, the County Commission discussed a Behavioral Health Acute Care System Data Review that provided details about the number of homeless individuals transported multiple times to hospitals or other facilities because of specific types of behavioral health crises. The report, which was released by the county’s Health and Human Services Department, covered the period from Oct. 1, 2015 through March 31, 2016. After a presentation on the study, the county commissioners reaffirmed their support for a come-as-you-are shelter in the community.
Earlier this year, the Sarasota City Commission and the County Commission both accepted the findings of a report by a consultant the city hired, which showed that if the local governments reserved more beds at the Salvation Army, that would be a major step in helping resolve homelessness issues in the community. That report also noted the value of having case workers assist individuals transported to the Salvation Army, so those people could start on a path that would lead to their finding permanent housing. The study further emphasized the need for more housing into which people could transition after receiving immediate care.
Additionally, in the fall of 2016, Sarasota County Judge Erika Quartermaine secured a three-year state grant to establish a Comprehensive Treatment Court program in the county that has been designed to serve homeless people suffering with addictions and mental health issues, so they can get the help they need instead of being jailed repeatedly.
In his Aug. 7 email to Rich Collins, City Manager Barwin asked whether Collins’ staff could prepare a timeline or spreadsheet reflecting all the data on the EMS transports since the figures had been collected, “which seems may be up to three years by now.” That would help city staff understand the seasonal fluctuations over time as well as other variables which have occurred since these records began being kept,” Barwin wrote. Among the changes in the community since the data collection began has been the establishment of the Comprehensive Treatment Court, Barwin added.
“If this can be done,” he continued, perhaps between Wayne Applebee’s records and Captain Stiff’s we can take a collective look at what policies if any have positively impacted the challenge [of the chronically homeless in the community] and conversely what has not helped.”
Applebee is the county’s director of services to the homeless, while Capt. Kevin Stiff heads up the Homeless Outreach Teams for the Sarasota Police Department.
In response to a News Leader query about Barwin’s request, county Media Relations Officer Jason Bartolone wrote in an Aug. 10 email that Collins’ team “is working on a way to graphically show the information over the timeframe it has been collecting the data.”
From the health care perspective
Barwin also asked Collins in the Aug. 7 email if Collins could clarify whether “anyone in public health or some other agency [is] alerted to or assigned to work with those who experience the highest number of multiple transports each month?”
In response to that same query from the News Leader, Chuck Henry, the county’s health officer and the director of the Health and Human Services Department, wrote, “While there is not one individual assigned, multiple agencies, including the Department of Health in Sarasota, are aware of and track the numbers of homeless individuals transported. We also understand the impacts of multiple transports in terms of costs to our collective health systems and in the need for robust wraparound services to these individuals. However, the complexity of finding solutions is significant,” Henry pointed out. “Patient privacy laws prohibit the sharing of specific patient information without explicit consent of the patient,” he noted. “[The] Sarasota Memorial Emergency Department does try to identify these clients and through case managers provides referrals to primary care services where they can establish a medical home. This can only be done if the client agrees and then is incumbent upon the client to follow through for appointments.”
Henry explained that “[the Florida Department of Health] in Sarasota is one of those referral sites. In this community health center, operated jointly with the Community Health Centers of Sarasota, most if not all homeless individuals will qualify for free or reduced cost care,” Henry continued. “Once established as our clients they can obtain health services, laboratory services, pharmacy services, and even some limited behavioral health services either free or at a reduced [fee] (income dependent). However,” he pointed out, “this service to our homeless community does require the client to be an active participant in their care by completing the eligibility process, making and attending appointments, and complying with the recommended care and medications. I should note that this is not a ‘new’ service. In fact, our community health center has been serving homeless individuals for many years (over 1,500 last year).”
Henry continued, “In addition to direct health care, multiple agencies, representatives from local government and local law enforcement agencies have been meeting monthly for several years to review and discuss behavioral health and substance abuse concerns in our community. This is done under the umbrella of the Community Alliance through its Behavioral Health Stakeholders Consortium. The topic of how to better reach and engage our homeless population across the broad sectors such as health care, housing, behavioral health, employment and job training, to name a few, continues to be a priority focus of this group,” Henry added.