Health Care and the Homeless

The aging population demographic has an alarmingly large sub-set: the homeless people in our nation. We are aware that the nation’s aging population is a major factor in the cost of health care today; what’s extremely concerning is current studies indicating more than 50% of the country’s homeless are aged 50 or older. As this subset continues to grow, the cost to the taxpayers picking up the tab for health care services for the homeless grows along with it.

The most recent estimate of homeless people living on the street in New York City has exceeded 41,000.  While living and sleeping on the street is tough for anyone, it is significantly harder for those of the ages of 50 and above.  

The main source of health care for the homeless continues to be the local emergency room, treating chronic illnesses such as diabetes and worse, along with chronic pain and recurring injuries attributed to the exposures of living on the street.

Other sources of health care for this population are federally funded free clinics. The homeless who frequent them, however, are rarely there to receive preventative care.  The homeless utilize them to get food and shelter; and often arrive when an illness or injury is at a critical point, thus making treatment much more difficult and costly.

Add to the mix those homeless who, in addition to physical ailment and injury, also suffer from mental and emotional illnesses, and we can see how this current situation in health care can continue to spiral out of control.

There are some attempts to alleviate these health and cost issues currently underway.  ”NYC Hospital to Home,” a federally funded program, looks to identify homeless individuals who are frequent users of the hospital/ER and connect them with available housing as well as outlets for regular treatment and care.  The goal of this and similar programs is to provide integrated, coordinated care while significantly lowering costs to the taxpayer.

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