Living Our Mission Every Day

September 24, 2016 | John Ellison

When Jane* came to the Adventist Health Medical Group Rockwood Urgent Care in Portland, Ore., she was emotional, tearful and smelling obviously of alcohol.

I looked over her extensive medical records for any serious issues. Jane was in her late 50s and struggled with homelessness, alcohol intoxication, drug use, mental health issues and frequent trips to the emergency department.

In her records, I noticed a number listed along with instructions to call it immediately if Jane ever showed up to an emergency department.

Jane’s sudden bursts of crying and wailing made it difficult to find out what was wrong. She had recently been tested for all serious issues that could have easily affected her — STDs, HIV, hepatitis — and found clear.

Jane didn’t need more testing. She needed help.

It was evident that Jane’s overarching issues were so deep that she was unable to comprehend them. I learned that Jane had consumed approximately four 20-ounce malt liquor cans that morning and had used drugs earlier in the week.

Everything Jane owned fit in a small backpack — including two more cans of liquor. She was indeed homeless, but there was nothing medically wrong with Jane. She could have been discharged right then and sent back to the street, as what was normally done when she visited the emergency department.

There were other patients waiting to be seen; however, instead of asking Jane to leave, I heard myself say, “I’m concerned about you, and I want to help if that is something you want.” Through her sobbing Jane managed to reply, “Yes.”

Suddenly, I remembered the phone number in her records and decided to make a call. The woman who answered the phone was part of a local organization’s intervention team, and Jane was one of her clients. She had been unable to locate Jane and was concerned.

After several hours of calls and collaboration with three organizations in the Portland area, I successfully arranged an inpatient bed in a treatment center that would help her through alcohol and drug treatment.

Meanwhile, Jane was given water and towels to clean up and a private exam room where she could rest and eat a sandwich. Staff came in to check on her frequently. During one check, Jane was nowhere to be found. I rushed outside, spotted her near the bus stop and called out to her. She turned to look at me, crying. I told her she was welcome to come back inside if she still wanted help, and she did.

In the end, we couldn’t help Jane as much as we had hoped to. Jane’s caseworker had arranged to pick her up at the women’s shelter and take her to the treatment center; however, when the caseworker arrived at the shelter, Jane was once again nowhere to be found.

Although disappointed, we lived our mission that day — and every day. Each provider, medical assistant and staff member in our clinic has experienced a “Jane” before — and certainly since. I am proud to be part of a team and organization where people like Jane are cared for and experience the healing ministry of Jesus Christ.

* Patient name has been changed.