Through his open motel door, Randall Morris could see a stretch of highway and a sparse grassy area. This was his view for many days from the seat in his wheelchair, positioned between the room’s two beds and in front of a television.
Morris, who has had both legs amputated due to a bone disease, kept his door open all day, closing it only late at night once he’s been helped into bed. It was through assistance from others that he was in Glynn County at all and staying in the motel, waiting for a space to be made available in a care center in the area.
Morris did not intend to be in Glynn County. He was dropped off, near Exit 29, with his wheelchair and a small wagon of belongings.
A few phone calls later, to Glynn County police, Coastal Community Health Services and FaithWorks ministries, Morris was brought over a week ago to a local motel while a more permanent solution was sought.
His struggle has highlighted the challenges homeless individuals, especially those with serious medical concerns, can face when trying to get the support they need from the numerous resources in this area.
Honey Sparre, who has worked with the homeless for more than a decade, said this situation has been one of the most difficult she has seen.
Sparre, director of homeless ministries for FaithWorks, was one of the first people the police called after they came in contact with Morris.
“I was contacted on a Thursday afternoon by the Glynn County Police Department regarding an individual that was dropped at Ext. 29,” Sparre said. “His condition was described to me, and because of his physical limitations, he is a medical liability to have both at the Salvation Army and the Well.”
The Well, a daytime hospitality and resource center for people who are homeless, does not offer services at night.
Sparre was unsure what to do, but someone soon stepped up to pay for Morris’ room for three nights. Staff at Coastal Community Health Services were also contacted, and they began reaching out immediately to contacts in the area to find out what care options are available to Morris, who is 53 and who also has Type 2 diabetes. Sparre, in the meantime, met him at the motel and saw firsthand how dire his situation was.
“He informed me that he hadn’t eaten all day and he hadn’t had a bath and he needed some clean pants, so I left and got everything we needed and came back,” Sparre recalled.
She and a coworker, Sheila Howard, bathed and redressed Morris and helped him get into bed. They also brought him a hot meal.
“At that time, all he wanted was fish sandwiches from McDonald’s,” Sparre said with a laugh.
Morris’ journey began in Pennsylvania, where he lived with his parents. His mother, who was his primary caretaker, recently passed away, so Morris took a bus to Florida where he was told there was a space available for him in a St. Augustine assisted living facility.
After his arrival, he had to be taken to the hospital, and when he was released he was not able to return to the facility.
He ended up sleeping in his wheelchair, Sparre said, and police soon told him he could not stay outside. Morris then took a cab and asked the driver to head north. He had enough money to get as far as Camden County, where the cab driver dropped him off. Later, he was brought to Glynn County, where he was dropped off near Exit 29. County police officers were then called.
“Glynn County police has bent over backwards for this guy,” Sparre said, noting that Lt. Gerald Herndon and Sgt. Jacob Kapeller picked him up and provided him with initial aid.
“They loaded all his stuff up, they picked him up, they got him something to drink and they let me know, ‘Hey he needs to be changed,’ when I got here,” Sparred said. “So they were very caring for him.”
Donors volunteered to pay for Morris’ stay at the motel, Sparre said, while a report has been made to Adult Protective Services to a find a longterm solution.
“Hopefully we can put him in touch with a medicare waiver program, possibly a skilled nursing facility placement where he can have a home and three meals and people who care about him all around, as well as activities and physical therapy and a doctor in house,” said Cindi Eberhardt, care manager at Coastal Community Health Services.
The challenge is finding a facility that can meet his needs and has a bed open, she said.
“It wouldn’t be proper for him to go to an assisted living facility because they cannot help him with what he needs — the transferring, the bathing, those types of things,” she said. “It needs to be a skilled nursing facility where there’s qualified and trained people there that can help him safely.”
A new solution
Since moving to Glynn County to join the CCHS team as CEO in July, Dr. Kavanaugh Chandler has quickly seen that homelessness is a significant issue in the community that requires close collaboration between numerous local partners.
And Morris’ challenges have only further demonstrated how important working together can be in order to provide the most needed care to the area’s homeless.
“All parties are doing their best to help where they can, so the question was what can we do as a health care center to work with those partners to help ultimately benefit those individuals and the community at large,” Chandler said.
A new program that CCHS will soon launch is intended to meet this need and aid individuals like Morris. CCHS also plans to soon expand its services and double its capacity for serving the downtown area.
It’s critical to meet people where they are, Chandler said, so the plan is to create an outreach program that will interact both with the homeless population and other various community services throughout the city and the county.
“The goal would be to hire someone who is medically trained to maybe go to FaithWorks, go to the Well and other places, to see what these individuals need,” Chandler said.
CCHS may use telehealth services to conduct initial assessments for both physical and behavioral health.
“If it’s then determined that that individual needs to be seen in person, we’ll then either bring our mobile unit or facilitate with that third party to get them into our physical clinic,” he said. “But the goal of the outreach program is to meet individuals where they are without judgement.”
Chandler hopes to initiate this new program as soon as possible and has begun interviewing potential job candidates.
“The key has been trying to find someone that really respects and understands that community and feels comfortable interacting with that community,” Chandler said. “So that is the current challenge, but a challenge we’re willing to take on.”
This kind of service would have greatly benefited Morris, as the question is often about how to find lasting solutions. And if they have significant medical concerns, that challenge becomes even greater.
“We all specialize in something, and I think if we can really have a roundtable where we can say this is what I do best and then create a true onboarding process, individuals such as Mr. Morris can immediately get in touch with any one of those parties and would have the complete care and access that they need,” Chandler said.
There are many resources to aid the homeless in Glynn County, but communication between the entities sometimes fails, to the detriment of those who they aim to help.
“All parties have the best of intentions, but I think we just have to find a platform that we can continuously communicate,” Chandler said. “And we can say, ‘Actually I can color that grey space in a little bit more,’ and sooner or later the full picture will be fully painted and provide a beautiful picture for the community and for those needing the assistance.”
A team effort
While staying at the motel, Morris’ door has remained open from morning to late each evening, in case he needs to call out for help.
“It’s weird,” Morris said last week, during a visit from Sparre and Eberhardt, who administered a COVID-19 test for him. “… I can’t get out of the bed or nothing.”
Morris has expressed concern about being alone in the room, Sparre said. Staff and guests at the motel, though, have also visited his room often to offer their help.
“Since he can’t get in and out of his chair, or on the bed, out of the bed, into the chair, he leaves his door open all the time so other guests have brought him food and sometimes they’ll help him get in or out,” Sparre said. “The hotel staff has done the same thing.”
It’s been a team effort to help Morris get the care he’s needed and to find a more stable solution for him, Sparre said.
“I want to applaud Glynn County Police Department and Coastal Community Healthcare for working with us so diligently to make sure Mr. Randall is taken care of both mentally, physically and spiritually,” Sparre said
Anyone who wishes to provide support to Morris or FaithWorks is asked to call 912-261-8512, ext. 106.