Nurses point to systemic problems in case of sick homeless man who spent days on hospital sidewalk

"The ER is completely full” Queen’s ER nurse speaks out after homeless man lying outside hospital gets taken to Straub
Published: Mar. 22, 2023 at 6:41 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 22, 2023 at 8:45 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Medical professionals and community health providers are evaluating the plight of a homeless man who says he was disregarded by Hawaii’s largest hospital.

Hawaii News Now first reported Tuesday about 59-year-old Timothy Walker, who spent days on the sidewalk outside the Queen’s Medical Center.

The story has gotten a lot of reaction, including from those who work at the hospital.

Hawaii Nurses Association President Daniel Ross says homeless individuals often come to emergency rooms looking for food and shelter, but do not require serious medical attention. He says Queen’s would not have released Walker without a doctor saying he no longer needs to be hospitalized.

“I don’t believe Queen’s did anything wrong,” said Ross.

“This is not just a Queen’s issue; this is a statewide issue. A lot of our homeless have mental health issues. We had a pregnant emergency room punched in the face and knocked out cold a couple of years ago.”

An ER nurse said the story left her “frustrated and angry.”

“For sure, it’s bad at the ER. The ER is completely full. The hospital is completely full,” she said.

The nurse, who asked to remain anonymous because she was not authorized to speak publicly, says residents need to know there are legitimate reasons that homeless people such as Walker, who was treated at Queen’s, end up being discharged while still in need of aid.

Sometimes, they refuse treatment on scene unless they are admitted.

“They come to the hospital, but what they want is a place to stay or sleep. They want something to eat. They want juice and a sandwich. And then they leave,” said the ER nurse.

In Walker’s case, even though he was treated at the ER on Friday, he was back on the sidewalk in front of the Queen’s asking for help.

HNN has learned he refused emergency treatment earlier in the week and declined shelter with IHS.

In 2020, the city built the Punawai Rest Stop to care for homeless people who might otherwise go to an ER for basic needs. Walker was initially taken to Punawai on Tuesday night. He was subsequently sent to Straub Medical Center for additional treatment. He remained at the hospital Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Queen’s Medical Center is also defending its response.

“We have a robust process and workflow in place for all of our patients, including our homeless population,” the hospital said. “Upon discharge, we offer shelter, transportation, clothes, food, vaccination, filling prescriptions, and other services to our homeless patients.”

The statement continued:

“We also provide 24/7 Emergency Department social workers to assist with any post-discharge needs. We recognize the serious need to care for and treat our homeless population, and we continue to work with other organizations across the state regarding treatment for these underserved members of our community.”