A trip to the emergency room is never in anyone’s plans. For people experiencing homelessness during a Minnesota winter, however, they can be a refuge from extreme weather and the equally extreme health risks that go along with it.
Nurse Erin Raiolo, BSN, RN, CEN, works in the Emergency Department at University of Minnesota Medical Center’s East Bank Hospital. Although she cares for patients experiencing homelessness all year, she notices an uptick when winter starts to set in.
“It is heartbreaking,” Erin said. “We go into nursing to help people and care for them. When we have to discharge patients who have nowhere to go, it’s hard to leave that open ended.”
Every year around the holidays, Erin makes a point to do some community service with her kids, Emma, 9, and Erick, 6. This year, they decided to make “blessing bags”―containers filled with hats, socks, mittens, snacks and toiletries―to give to Emergency Department patients who are in need.
“I wanted to help make people feel welcome at the hospital when they come and then comfy and warm when they leave," said daughter Emma.
The East Bank Emergency Department now has a supply of blessing bags that can be gifted as needed, in addition to the other resources and referrals to shelters that social workers and hospital staff also provide.
“The emergency room is a safe place where homeless patients come to see a doctor or get medicine when they have nowhere else to turn," Erin said. "It warms my heart that our hospital can give these things to those who are in need, even if it’s just a little bit.”