Several U.S. hospitals have implemented a surprising solution to expensive care for emergency room “super users” who are homeless: paying for an apartment.
Healthcare administrators at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago recognized that half of the chronically ill people showing up in the ER were also chronically homeless—people like Glenn Baker, 45, who told NPR he frequently used his asthma and blood pressure problems to get into the ER since he had nowhere to call home.
Baker was among the first 26 people sponsored by a 2015 pilot program at the hospital that has decreased the healthcare costs of participants by average of 18 percent a month. Now the program has ramped up to double the number of patients receiving housing.
“If every hospital in the area agreed to house 10 chronically homeless patients, which would be a relatively modest investment, we could collectively make a huge impact on reducing homelessness, and it would be near cost-neutral to every hospital,” Stephen Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine at the hospital, told WBEZ-TV in Chicago.
Now three other Chicago hospitals—Swedish Covenant, Rush, and Stroger—are considering or have launched similar healthcare-cum-housing programs.
University of Illinois Hospital formed a partnership with the Center of Housing and Health to identify and support ER “frequent fliers.” The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development pays for part of the rented apartment, while the hospital kicks in $1,000 a month toward the total cost of housing and other support. That is far less than a $3,000-per-day ER bill that wouldn’t get paid.
The success of the innovative program stems from more than housing: It offers stability through caring relationships. A case manager shepherds the patient through myriad daily needs such as handling money, getting to appointments, and accessing other services. —R.H.