Eight Percent of San Francisco Homeless Used ERs for Medical Care Four or More Times in Past Year, Study Finds
Eight percent of homeless and "marginally housed" people surveyed recently in San Francisco said they had sought treatment from an emergency room at least four times in the previous year, according to a study published in the May issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The Oakland Tribune reports that the study of 2,532 people, conducted by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco, also found that another 32% of respondents said they had visited an ER between one and three times in the previous year. Those who visited ERs four or more times accounted for more than half of the ER visits among all those studied. Some of those surveyed said they had used the ER up to 100 times the previous year, according to study author Dr. Margot Kushel, a UCSF assistant professor of medicine. Kushel said that the study's most significant finding is that "even though free public health clinics are widely available in San Francisco, the lack of steady housing led to health conditions in heavy ER users that were too severe for the clinics to handle." She added, "Their needs may really overwhelm even an intact primary care system."
Kushel said that one possible way to provide health services to homeless people could be "supportive housing" programs, which offer less support than assisted living or skilled nursing facilities but provide "some degree of medical and social support." A study in San Francisco recently found a 58% decrease in emergency room usage for homeless people who lived in supportive housing for at least one year or more. Of the 25% of participants who had used the ER an average of 10.7 times in the previous year, ER visits fell to three per year after a year in supportive housing, according to Carol Wilkins, a policy director with Oakland's Corporation for Supportive Housing (Bohan, Oakland Tribune, 4/30).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.