Study links hospital visits to first-time shelter use
Hospital visits spike before and after first-time shelter use, according to a new study published in Health Affairs. The research, which looked at adult first-time shelter users in New York City, found that 39% had a hospital visit in the year before shelter entry while 43% had a hospital visit in the year after shelter exit.
When looking at specific timeframes, the researchers found that hospital visits soared in the days leading up to shelter admission, peaking on the day of entry. Similarly, hospital visits were highest on the day of shelter exit, decreasing thereafter.
“The huge spikes that we saw leading up to entry to shelter and exit, was more pronounced than we predicted,” Kelly Doran, an emergency physician and a coauthor of the study, told the Wall Street Journal.
The findings suggest that hospitals should be doing more to help prevent discharges into homelessness, including screening patients for housing instability. “Unstably housed patients could be connected with existing homelessness prevention and other social services while they are in the hospital,” the researchers said.
Additionally, vulnerable populations should be targeted for prevention interventions based on their diagnoses, according to the study. Mental-health issues, substance use, and pregnancy complications—major risk factors for homelessness—were among the most common principal diagnoses for hospital visits of first-time shelter users.
The research points to the need for greater coordination between homeless services and healthcare providers. “Our findings suggest the interdependence of the health care and homeless services sectors and the need for closer collaboration between these oft-siloed systems,” researchers wrote.