When Healthcare Employees Really Care: Homeless Patient finds New Home

Homeless on the streets of Muskegon this bitter winter meant that Mr. Wesley Rowell suffered from exposure and lost portions of both feet. It was a series of unfortunate events that led to Rowell’s medical emergency. He had been primary caregiver for his elderly mother prior to her admission to a care facility and death, but he became homeless when the county confiscated his mother’s home due to unpaid taxes.

At SKLD Muskegon, Rowell spent a year recuperating. It took a team approach to help him overcome his general mistrust of caregivers. Facility administrator Chelsea Rink says, “When he came to the facility, we knew that it was going to be a challenge. He didn’t trust anyone, but as time went on he became more comfortable and built relationships.”

Throughout Mr. Rowell’s time at SKLD, many employees worked with him to become independent so that he could be discharged. The problem was that he had nowhere to go and lacked even the most basic items—like orthotics and shoes to pair with them. With little money and limited capacity to secure an apartment and necessities, Mr. Rowell needed a lot of help. Without it, he would have ended up homeless again and worse off than before. Chelsea says:

“In the business that we’re in, we have to take chances on people and hope that it works out. For Mr. Rowell, we knew that he was homeless coming from hospital, but we had a team here that we knew one way or another could find him housing.”

That’s when Shelly Simmons stepped in.

Shelly’s official title at SKLD Muskegon is medical records clerk, but she wears many hats. In Mr. Rowell’s case, it was heroine, savior and saint. Chelsea says, “There were so many of us who tried to work with him on his discharge plans, and then Shelly was the one who was able to make it happen.”

Mr. Rowell, who is a Vietnam veteran, struggles with communication and trusting people, and Shelly gave him all the time he needed. “He would just sit in my office for hours and talk while I worked,” she says, “Eventually he got out what he needed to say.”

Shelly has worked in the nursing home business for 27 years and has been at Muskegon for 12. Among her responsibilities is managing the mobile physicians—specialists who rotate through the facility. This means that Shelly was well acquainted with a physical therapist, Craig Baker with CrossRoads Orthotics, and she needed a favor. Mr. Rowell didn’t qualify for orthotics from Medicaid because he didn’t actually have a specific diagnosis. Shelly appealed to Craig Baker for help, and he agreed to make and donate the orthotics. Once those arrived a few weeks after Craig Baker made a mold of Mr. Rowell’s feet, Dustin Baker, SKLD Muskegon laundry and housekeeping supervisor, set out to get Mr. Rowell some boots to accommodate the orthotics. SKLD Muskegon paid for the boots. “He was taking buses and going around town to look for apartments with just a set of hospital therapy shoes with open toes!” says Shelly.

The next feat was to find a new home for Mr. Rowell. He lacked a birth certificate that was required for getting an apartment and was struggling to locate one from Illinois. Shelly managed to track down and purchase his birth certificate TWICE (!) because the first one came back with the wrong county listed. She then spent time taking Mr. Rowell around town to check out available apartments and fill out paperwork.

It took a team of helpers, including Jimmy Pickell from laundry and services and, of course, SKLD Muskegon administrator Chelsea Rink, but finally Mr. Rowell secured an apartment and moved in. SKLD covered his security deposit and first month’s rent. Shelly continues to visit him and check on what he needs to maintain his independence.

From left are Dustin Baker, Shelly Simmons and Jimmy Pickell, who all helped Mr. Rowell move into his new home in early February.

From left are Dustin Baker, Shelly Simmons and Jimmy Pickell, who all helped Mr. Rowell move into his new home in early February.

Shelly admits that helping Mr. Rowell was a tremendous amount of work, but she is grateful for the opportunity. “Had I not approached him when I overheard him getting agitated, I would have never had the privilege of knowing him. It broke my heart when he broke down in my office. He’s a veteran, and it shouldn’t be like that.“

For Shelly, helping Mr. Rowell was par for the course. Another resident at SKLD Muskegon, who is also a veteran, needed a replacement for his electric mobile chair. He had called the veterans facility several times without making any progress. Shelly found out and says she called nearly every day until she got a replacement.

“This isn’t my job, but I can’t not take that on and help.”

In a job where the needs are endless, Shelly stays motivated by focusing on the greater purpose of healthcare.

“I say we are in the healthcare business, with the emphasis on the care. You can’t do this for this long without caring for patients and their family members.”

Chelsea agrees. “All patients who come to us have various physical and emotional needs, but Mr. Rowell’s circumstances were exceptional. That meant we had to find a way to think out of the box, and the best way we do that here is working at a team. I will often include employees in other roles to help with a patient, based on what their strengths are. For Mr. Rowell it took a village.”

Mr. Rowell may be on his way to a better life, but it doesn’t look like Shelly will be giving up her acts of kindness any time soon. She says:

“How do you stop? I feel so fortunate and blessed to be in the position where I can. If we are able to help, then how can we not?”

Mr. Rowell at his new home.

Mr. Rowell at his new home.