Inebriate Shelter Seeks Partners

November 1, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — The two-year-old Public Inebriate Shelter at Mel Trotter Ministries has been running at a deficit of $60,000 to $70,000 a year, in part because the cost of the program has exceeded original estimates.

When Director Tom Meyers took over Mel Trotter 13 months ago, the mission was struggling to find nurses for the round-the-clock inebriate program and didn’t have the administrative help to support it either.

“It has taken a year, but everything is clicking now. Everything’s in order,” Meyers said. “We very seldom have a problem with a nurse not showing up. If one doesn’t show up, one works an extra shift.”

However, he said, the cost of nursing and the cost of running a medical center, like so many other things, have gone up over the past few years. The annual cost of running the Inebriate Shelter is $240,000.

Saint Mary’s Health Care, Spectrum Health, MetropolitanHospital, the Downtown Alliance and a few private donors are partners in the program and have been providing most of the financial support for the program. As of last week, the program’s budget for the fiscal year was still $15,000 short.

Meyers told the mission’s board in August that if the program didn’t get the financial support to finish out the fiscal year he was going to have to shut it down.

“Since then we have formed a committee that does nothing but work to get different organizations to fund this, to grant it, or whatever we can do,” he said. “The goal is to expand the program’s partner base to create a larger pool of funds.”

Meyers believes the strategy will work.

“I have a lot of faith in the community, and I have a lot of faith that supporters will come forward.”

The Public Inebriate Shelter was hailed as a progressive, humane way to treat and care for public inebriates when it opened in August 2002. The program ministers to profoundly intoxicated men and women who pass out on the street and are vulnerable to predators or at risk of being injured or of dying from exposure.

The program provides inebriates with a safe environment for recovery, along with medical supervision, meals, clothing and substance abuse treatment referrals.

Rather than depositing those individuals in hospital emergency rooms as was done previously, ambulance attendants or police officers are now able to pick up those individuals, drop them off at the inebriate shelter and be on their way.

“This has been not only an asset to our hospitals, but to our community,” Meyers said. “We have been assured by members of the community that the Public Inebriate Shelter is a valuable program in rescuing inebriates off the streets of our city.” Also, people visiting downtown don’t have to step over a passed-out individual or be confronted by an inebriate begging for money, he pointed out.

Mel Trotter crunched the numbers earlier this year and figured the shelter was saving the community nearly $2 million in traditional emergency room costs. William Merchut, assistant executive director of Mel Trotter, estimated the inebriate shelter cares for about four people a day on average and that the average visit lasts about eight hours. More than 1,000 people access program services annually.

“We figure that if it’s an overnight stay, the emergency room cost for that diagnostic group would be about $1,808 per visit,” he told the Business Journal. “If it were an outpatient stay of less than eight hours, it would be $387. We are staying at about $289 per visit.

“For an inpatient, overnight stay we’re saving (collectively) $1,979,000. If all of the services were outpatient, we’re saving the community $127,600.”      

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