Salvation Army provides isolation rooms for homeless with flu

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — One of the Salvation Army's values is to help anyone who comes to its door, but people with the flu recently challenged that charitable policy.

For the first time, the Salvation Army Harbor House, at 602 N. Ann St. in northeast Columbia, has created an isolation and recovery area to give homeless people who have flulike symptoms a place to get well.

The Salvation Army Harbor House, has designated two large rooms — one for women and one for men — to help the ailing homeless while limiting the spread of infection. Jim Chapman, the director of Harbor House, said the challenge was to separate sick residents from healthy ones in the facility's dorm-style setting.

It became clear a solution would be needed when, in a 24-hour period, two men with the flu arrived on the doorstep of Harbor House.

"I was going to isolate him out the door," Chapman said. "It would have been the easiest way, but it doesn't help the individual."

After some brainstorming, Chapman and Maj. Kendall Mathews, the Salvation Army's regional coordinator for Columbia and Jefferson City, decided to transform two of the six family rooms into recovery rooms.

"We have to go the extra mile and take whatever steps we have to take to help people," Mathews said.

Chapman said the only drawback now is that the family rooms are completely full, so Harbor House will have a problem if a family comes in search of shelter. At that point, an isolation room might be reclaimed for a family room.

There's not much wiggle room because there's been an increase in demand for Harbor House shelter. Chapman said he has seen an increase in residents this year compared with years past. Last week, there were 49 occupants, leaving only three spare beds.

The isolation and recovery rooms have been a success. Chapman said the first man came in on Oct. 6 after being diagnosed with pneumonia and the seasonal flu and was released Saturday. The other patient was also released Saturday.

Harbor House is taking other precautions to try to keep its healthy residents from contracting an illness. Sick residents are being asked to retrieve their medication and food a half-hour before they usually would, Chapman said. These residents are also required to wear a mask at all times when they are not in their rooms.

One room and two beds have also been set up at the Salvation Army's Jefferson City facility for residents with flulike symptoms.

Harbor House resident LaRhonda Jones said she was nervous when her 4-year-old, Cassandra, and 5-year-old, Christopher, got sick. Both of her kids are feeling better now, and she said she thinks the isolation room is a good idea.

Resident Jeffery Bell said it's really hard to stay healthy when it's 45 degrees outside.

"(The sick residents) were really grateful that someone was here that had the compassion to help them out," Bell said. "Isn't that what Jesus is all about?"


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