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USF professor helps drastically reduce shelter 911 calls

Mark Parker



Dr. LaTiena Williams, assistant professor of nursing at USF, is making a big difference at the Salvation Army's Red Shield Center. Photo provided.

A passionate care provider and a unique partnership between the University of South Florida College of Nursing and The Salvation Army has reduced emergency calls by 85% at a homeless facility.

The Salvation Army’s Red Shield Center in Tampa is expansive. It provides 160 beds for homeless men and women, typically recently discharged patients from Tampa General Hospital.

However, the center’s staff was ill-equipped to handle the medical issues arising from a population unable to prioritize health care. On average, they had no choice but to call emergency medical services (EMS) about three times per day – often for side effects related to residents lacking access to their medication.

While the College of Nursing’s Respite Care program began in January, Dr. LaTiena Williams, an assistant nursing professor at USF, started working at the center in August. The university recently reported that emergency calls have decreased by 85%, and Williams said what used to occur three times daily has only happened four times on her watch.

“To see them now getting that care – their bodies are coming back to life,” said Williams. “You can actually see and tell. Like their color is returning. Their smile is coming back.”

Elle Kane (left), social services director for The Salvation Army, and LaTiena Williams. Photos:

Williams has a long and proud history in public health. So, when someone from the university asked the St. Petersburg resident if she was interested in overseeing the Respite Care Program at the Salvation Army facility, she excitedly accepted the role.

After completing need assessments over the summer, Williams identified several issues related to access and coordination. Many people at the center were discharged with prescriptions but lacked transportation to receive their medication.

Williams established partnerships for pharmacies to deliver prescriptions to the Salvation Army. She coordinated appointments but realized many center residents couldn’t get to the clinics. While many of her clients have county-provided health insurance, Williams noted it is difficult for the sickly and elderly to walk to or stand at bus stations.

So, she set up transportation to and from the Red Shield Center. However, Williams can often help residents without them needing to leave the facility, in an ambulance or otherwise.

She said survival takes precedence over personal health when you live on the street.

“Poor health is both a cause and an outcome of homelessness,” stressed Williams. “A lot of the residents have diabetes, hypertension – I mean, everything. They haven’t taken their medications in over a year sometimes.”

Mental health issues are also intrinsically intertwined with homelessness, explained Williams. She added that the population is several times more likely to seek care from an emergency room rather than a specialized facility.

That process extended to the Red Shield Center, and Williams relayed her shock when she realized how many EMS calls emanated from the facility daily.

“I was like, ‘wow, what’s going on,’” she said. “It’s like basic stuff … and I’m like, ‘we don’t have to call for that.’”

Williams watches a college of nursing student administer a vaccine to a center resident.

Williams noted that the Salvation Army’s staff are not health professionals, requiring them to seek assistance for minor problems. She has mitigated many concerns by creating proactive care plans that include frequent blood pressure and blood sugar checks and addressing nutritional issues.

A light turns on automatically when Williams enters her office every morning. She said it serves as a beacon for center residents who then flock to her door seeking a blood pressure check – or perhaps more likely – someone who’s invested in their health.

“They’re happy,” said Williams. “Someone is here. Someone cares.”

She established partnerships with organizations like BayCare Community Health to provide center residents with previously unattainable routine and preventive care. Mobile health units now frequently visit the facility and provide on-site vaccinations and basic dental services.

Next on Williams’ agenda is booking Advent Health’s mobile mammogram unit, so women at the facility can receive breast cancer screenings.

“When you’re homeless, that’s something that’s not on your radar,” she said. “But it doesn’t mean you don’t have it or you’re not at risk of getting it.”

Nine College of Nursing students visit the Red Shield Center weekly, which is mutually beneficial for both parties. Residents receive added care, and future nurses learn how to engage with and treat the homeless.




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1 Comment

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    Tina Zeisig

    January 13, 2023at4:10 pm

    Thank you Ms.Williams and the Salvation Army for meeting the needs of the vulnerable members of your community. GOD bless you

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