In Honor of Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day, 

This is a story about a caseworker who went above and beyond in compassion for a dying client. Homeless Persons’ Memorial Day is about remembering the homeless that have been lost, cold, lonely and often alone, and honoring those who have been there for them. 

11351127_845931582157274_2009894482045091040_n“Many of the men and women we work with have no family or social support system they can utilize. They have burned those bridges with the diseases they struggle with. We house them and, once housed, begin working with them on issues that are important to them. We might help them find work, we might help them get a Doctor and begin working on their health issues. We might help them find the recovery they want for the chemical addictions or mental illnesses.

Our case managers get involved. We become the support they need and, through referrals, our tenants begin to build a larger support network for themselves. We work with them on the issues that they want to work on. We accept them for who they are, we care about our tenants. When things aren’t going well for a tenant, our staff will step in where they can and give whatever assistance they can give. I have seen case managers spend hours on the phone tracking down an issue for a tenant. I don’t want to say we become like family to them because that is not our goal. We do become close with our tenants and we care deeply about what happens to them.

I am known around here to say we celebrate the little steps and I have been known to say that sometimes our “victories” are bitter sweet. Imagine if you will, that you have no contact with your family and you have no social support network. It can be a lonely place. From that lonely place imagine that you get ill and you know that your time is short. You are transferred to the hospital, the right place for you to be but a cold and impersonal place. In the ICU, no friends, no family, and you know that soon, very soon, you will pass away. That is the reality that some of our clients face.

Case managers here though, as I have said, get involved with their clients, care about their clients. I’m sorry that this is not a flowery feel good story. But my story is about one of our tenants that found himself in the hospital. The prognosis was grim. We tried to find family members to contact but had no luck. This tenants case manager made it her point to go to the hospital every day, check in with the client, check in with the medical staff, and make sure everything was going o.k. She would come back to the office and tell me what was going on with the client. Things got worse; the client was unconscious and, with no advanced directive, was being kept alive by the machines he was connected to. His case manager worked with the hospital to have a conservator appointed.

Once a conservator was appointed there was a meeting with the medical staff, the conservator, and the case manager. It was decided that the client would be taken off the machines. This was a difficult decision for all but, since the case manager had worked so closely with him she was particularly distraught by the decision. She knew though, that it was the right decision to make. At this point she could have come back to the office. She could have gone to visit another client. She was exhausted from this and could have called me and told me she was going to go home. She could have but, what she did was go to ICU to sit with her client for a while. They disconnected the client and it was expected that he would pass quickly. She sat and waited. While she waited he opened his eyes. And this, bittersweet as it is, is my story. Our client, literally on his death bed, opened his eyes and he found he was not alone. His case manager was there and she stayed there until he passed. She talked to him, she comforted him.”

Photo credit: Derek Sterling Photography

Steve MacHattie is Director of Programs at ImmaCare. He shared this story at the Annual Training Institute Storytime Booth last Spring.