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Health Care and Housing: A Match Worth Making

26 May 2015

Elizabeth Grim, Policy Analyst, Partnership for Strong Communities

Nearly 900 health care, housing, and homelessness providers and advocates descended on Washington, D.C. the first week of May 2015 for the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference & Policy Symposium. The conference was a time to foster new connections with colleagues across the nation and to strengthen already existing relationships.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Burwell kicked off the program by describing the opportunities available to better serve individuals experiencing homelessness living with physical or mental health disabilities through the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid expansion, and permanent supportive housing. Homelessness and housing instability are associated with poor health outcomes, including high mortality and high rates of chronic illnesses. Many individuals experiencing homelessness rely on emergency rather than primary medical care, resulting in disjointed care and costing the system millions of dollars each year. A common theme during this year’s conference was super-utilizers/frequent visitors, or those individuals who visit the emergency department frequently for health care.

Connecticut is at the forefront nationally in addressing frequent visitors. In 2014, the Opening Doors-CT Hospital Initiative was launched as a collaboration between the Partnership for Strong Communities (PSC) and the Connecticut Hospital Association (CHA), thanks to funding from the Connecticut Health Foundation. This pilot project focuses on fortifying the connection between hospitals and community providers, and better identifying and serving those who are homeless and visiting the emergency department often. In Connecticut, approximately 35-40% of frequent visitors to the emergency department are experiencing homelessness or housing instability. Through the Hospital Initiative, five hospitals around the state established regional partnerships of community-based health care, housing, and social service providers who meet regularly to address the needs of their most vulnerable clients, including those who are experiencing homelessness, chronic mental health or physical health illnesses, and/or using substances.

Connecticut’s innovative model was showcased through a panel discussion at the National Health Care for the Homeless Conference entitled, Hospitals, Community Care Teams, and Recuperation: Statewide Coordination to Identify, Monitor, and Care for the Homeless. Panelists included myself, Carl Schiessl (Director of Regulatory Advocacy, Connecticut Hospital Association [CHA]), Terri DiPietro (Director, Outpatient Behavioral Health, Middlesex Hospital), Alison Cunningham (Executive Director, Columbus House), and Michael Ferry (Lead Social Worker, Yale-New Haven Hospital). Interdisciplinary care coordination provided by hospitals and community providers has improved the health care of patients with chronic and persistent medical needs who may be experiencing homelessness or housing instability.

Attendees praised Connecticut providers on their ability to break down silos and develop policies, procedures, and systems that allow providers to better communicate with each other about the needs of their clients, ultimately leading to better patient outcomes, more efficient and effective delivery of social services, and cost-savings for hospitals and state systems.

Interested in learning more about how Connecticut providers are integrating health care and housing to improve patient outcomes, decrease public costs, and relieve pressure on medical, housing, and other social service providers? Join the Partnership for Strong Communities on Thursday, June 25th from 9:00am – 11:00am for the final IForum in the 2015 series, Health Care, Housing, & Homelessness: Integrating Systems. Click here to register.

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