ER cost saver: Chicago hospitals launch housing for homeless program

Hospitals in Chicago will try to reduce their costs by providing apartments to homeless people who frequently use their emergency departments.

The patients represent a small number, "but they're very, very expensive," Stephen Brown, director of preventive emergency medicine at University of Illinois Hospital, told Crain's Chicago Business. "Their healthcare costs are five to 15 times what the average patient costs ... they're both sick and they're also accessing the ER for what we call secondary gain--it's warm, they can get a sandwich, they're there to sleep during the night." 

Brown told the publication that seven of the top 10 users of the University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System's ERs are chronically homeless, with each accessing the system between 30 and 120 times a year.

The University of Illinois is funding apartments for up to 20 chronically homeless Chicagoans for a year. So far they've found housing for 14 people, according to the article. And the organization has already seen evidence of success. Since he received an apartment, one ER denizen, who would seek care two or three times a week at the ER, stopped showing up at hospitals completely, Brown told the publication. 

While hospitals in some major cities have chosen to provide housing with no strings attached, others have launched programs that provide navigators to homeless patients after discharge to help them seek housing that would keep them off the streets. Such navigator programs have also cut ER visits, hospital admissions and costs.

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