HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Every month, up to 600 homeless people are admitted into the emergency room at the Queen’s Medical Center. Many of them are repeat patients.
The longest Candy Carpenter stayed in the hospital was about two months.
Carpenter, a taxi driver, has diabetes and heart problems. She lost her apartment after her roommate died, and was living in a van when her health took a turn for the worst.
“I got a blister on my big toe,” she said. “It got really bad. I ended up in the hospital."
Doctors first amputated her toe, then a part of her foot and finally her leg.
Doctors say for patients like Carpenter, recovery is dependent on stable housing.
Without it, more hospital stays are almost guaranteed.
That’s why Queen’s has started using its care navigators to place their sickest homeless patients into housing.
It’s one of the first hospitals in the country to implement this kind of program — and it’s working.
“We know roughly that one high utilizer can on average cost the system $70,000 to $80,000 per year,” said Dr. Daniel Cheng, who heads up the Queen’s Care Coalition, a program that connects medically-fragile homeless people with housing.
“We follow them for about 90 days,” said Cheng.
“In that 90 days we really try to attack them and be really aggressive in terms of providing care, resources, friendship, a spiritual kind of connection. Anything we think is missing for them to kind of link them with housing.”
Over the past year and a half, the hospital’s five-member team has worked with 112 patients. Today, 75 percent of them are in some type of housing — an estimated savings of more than $5 million.
“I think we’re definitely seeing lower utilization by EMS by some of our homeless high utilizing individuals,” said Cheng. “That’s actually translating to quicker EMS times and shorter wait times hasn’t been quite as clear.”
Hawaii’s homeless crisis has been a huge burden on Hawaii’s emergency medical system. Overuse of ambulances and emergency rooms is forcing up costs and wait times for everyone.
Since Carpenter’s navigator helped her find a new apartment back in September she’s been able to stay on top of her health issues and hasn’t been admitted to the hospital.
“She was my life saver. She got me a housing voucher,” said Carpenter. “It’s so much easier to take care of my health now.”
The program costs $1.5 million a year. Ninety percent of that is paid for by the Queen’s Medical Center, while the rest is covered with grants and other private funds.