How Harborview Medical Center is tackling high readmission rates among homeless

Some public hospitals in Washington are turning to respite programs to address the state's worsening homelessness issue, reports The Seattle Times.

Here are four things to know:

1. In summer 2018, 200 homeless people in western Washington spent an average of 82 days in the hospital after they no longer required inpatient care, a Washington State Hospital Association working group found. Many homeless patients also end up back in the hospital shortly after discharge, according to WSHA President Cassie Sauer.

"Some patients come to the hospital ER a hundred times a year, or more," she told The Seattle Times. "A volume that you and I can't fathom."

2. Seattle-based Harborview Medical Center is helping keep homeless patients off the streets and out of the hospital through a respite program. The Edward Thomas House is a 34-bed respite care center across the street from Harborview's main entrance. The center is designed for homeless patients who are healthy enough to leave the hospital, but not ready to return to the streets or a shelter.

3. Respite programs like the Edward Thomas House emerged in the 1980s, but really picked up steam in the last decade. At present, about 80 such facilities exist nationwide. Washington state has four respite care programs, more than every other state besides California, according to the National Healthcare for the Homeless Network's directory cited by The Seattle Times.  

4. Harborview's respite program allows patients to stay for up to three months, although the average stay is about three weeks. The Edward Thomas House costs $400 a day per patient, compared to about $2,000 a day at Harborview Medical Center. The program allows the hospital to not only cut costs, but also help keep patients out of the hospital. Past research shows homeless people who receive respite care subsequently spend fewer days in the hospital than those who did not receive such care, according to The Seattle Times.

More articles on patient flow:

Alabama hospital sets records for surgeries, ER visits after Dec. 6 move
CMS extends deadline for voluntary readmissions measure to Jan. 4
St. Cloud Hospital staff gave birth to 32 babies in 2018

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