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How Hospitals Can Save Millions Helping Homeless

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, December 29, 2011

Another NHF project that takes patients discharged from Orange County hospitals began Jan. 1, 2010. For 11 months in 2011, it cared for 385 homeless patients, saving those hospitals $2.87 million. NHF contracts with the non-profit Illumination Foundation to manage both programs.

Two other programs operated by a different group, the JWCH Institute, elsewhere in LA, and third in Santa Monica, also take in homeless persons discharged from hospitals. .

These patients—mostly single, uninsured men too frail to recover from their illnesses on the streets, but not sick enough to stay in the hospital—receive meals, help from nurses, home health and social services professionals. A large number received acute care for cellulitis, fractures, and trauma, uncontrolled diabetes, chest pain, or alcohol withdrawal and are taught how to manage their conditions.

They also receive transportation to physician or clinic appointments or to a pharmacy to get their medications. As a bonus, they also get some job counseling. The project houses 22 patients at a time in 12 double-occupancy rooms, and is quickly reaching capacity.

Perhaps equally important, Bruno says, the effort works hard to find these patients permanent housing in a setting where they can stay much healthier than they would sleeping on the street. So far, about 50% of the discharged patients have found permanent housing, although the long-term success is unclear.

In Los Angeles, the issue of hospitals discharging homeless patients became a political lightning rod several years ago when the City Attorney's office filed civil and criminal actions against several hospitals for "dumping" patients.

The city then passed an ordinance which set a $1,000 fine for each homeless patient a hospital is caught "dumping."

"Placing discharged patients, perceived to be homeless, on the streets of Skid Row is not only unsafe and a risk to their well-being and recovery, but a clear indication that institutions are placing concerns for financial performance above humanitarian concerns," the ordinance reads.

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1 comments on "How Hospitals Can Save Millions Helping Homeless"


Ruth Hansten RN PhD FACHE (1/5/2012 at 11:49 AM)
Cheryl, thank you for assembling this great news about creative demonstration projects for "frequent fliers" that I hope will be replicated on a national scale. I come from a public health background in the 1970s when we did use half-way houses and other suppport services to help patients truly heal before discharge. We can argue whether this is the government's job or the hospital's responsibility, but while we figure out accountability, patients are being supported in a compassionate manner. To me, the measure of a society is how we care for the least fortunate among us. It's heartening that doing the right thing, respectful healing care that's individualized for that person, is saving money!