Housing is Healing—and Health Systems Can Help
This evening, when you retreat to the comforts of your home, more than half a million people across our country will find no such refuge.
They’ll ride buses throughout the night not to reach a destination, but to ensure their safety. They’ll fight off mosquitoes in their makeshift tents. They’ll curl up on park benches and pray it doesn’t rain.
Ignoring the homeless is immoral. It also guarantees a continuation of the vicious cycle that costs hospitals and our communities millions of dollars each year.
No matter how excellent the care we provide, if our patients don’t have a home, they will continue to return to our hospitals.
In 2014, Central Florida leaders launched a campaign to end chronic homelessness by transitioning to the Housing First model, in which the chronically homeless are provided a home, wrap-around services, and case managers.
This program intrigued us at Florida Hospital for both moral and financial reasons. After much evaluation, we donated $6 million toward the Housing First initiative.
The figure pales in comparison to the uncompensated care we provide the homeless, as we found when we identified 100 homeless Central Floridians who most frequently used our emergency department from March 2014 to April 2015. Combined, their total hospital charges were $14.8 million.
By using a Housing First approach, we can ensure that medical care for this population is coordinated and delivered in an appropriate setting.
Importantly, once a person has a permanent home, he or she can qualify for Medicaid. So when that person does come to the hospital—and hopefully for an appropriate reason—we can be reimbursed.
The $6 million will be spent over three years. Roughly $1.5 million has been spent so far, and we’re already seeing results.
About 120 people now have homes. An additional 46 people have been assigned case managers and are receiving services in advance of being given homes. Though it’s still early, we’re seeing notable savings in the emergency department as well.
Answering a Need—and a Calling
Florida Hospital is not in the housing business, and yet we consider our homeless initiative a model of care and an extension of our mission.
It wasn’t long after our $6 million donation that Wayne Densch Charities, which for decades operated a transitional housing community in Central Florida, donated the development to Florida Hospital. We, in turn, partnered with Ability Housing, a nonprofit that provides affordable and supportive housing to the homeless, to transform the community into permanent housing.
Hospitals have much to gain by ending chronic homelessness. What role will your organization play, and where do you begin?
- Track the impact of homelessness on your hospital. How many homeless patients do you treat? What is the cost?
- Educate community and business leaders about the impact of homelessness in your community.
- Leverage your role in the community and build partnerships with organizations that have shared goals.
There is a cost benefit to ending chronic homelessness. Moreover, as a faith-based organization, we believe it’s what we’re called to do as a way to restore peace, hope, and dignity.
Housing is healing.
Eddie Soler is chief financial officer, Adventist Health System–Florida Division, Orlando. Read more entries on the Leadership Blog.