This morning on Morning Edition there was a discussion about New York state's effort to use federal health care dollars for housing. They specifically are petitioning the federal government to be able to use Medicaid dollars for housing. The State's argument is that they already pay for housing in mental health facilities and nursing homes or the inability to discharge people to the streets so why not pay for safe places for people to recover from a serious health condition? WCPN also weighed in with a story about the value of expanded Medicaid to a family. I have seen attempts in Colorado and Boston to do innovative housing using health care dollars. So, to answer the question posed on NPR, yes, housing is healthcare!
Imagine breaking your leg and going to the hospital to have it set while sleeping in a shelter. The hospital will release you with a cast and then try to get bed rest to recover from the broken bone. It is not easy and it is unlikely that you will be able to keep the leg up while you recover. You have to go get food and most shelters make you leave from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. How do you recover from a fever in a shelter or even surgery? Behavioral health issues are just as big of a problem for those without housing because they cannot find a place to recover. There is the problem of repeated trips to the most expensive part of the health care continuum with emergency room care. There is repeat visits because homelessness and bed rest are mutually exclusive. There is the issue of sleep deprivation in the homeless community which then causes other health issues. There is an inability to get consistent care for chronic health conditions because of an inability to secure quality health insurance (before 2014).
Housing is a game changer for people with long term health issues. If you have a solid bed to go back to and get a good night sleep it will change your life. Housing takes a great deal of stress and pressure off a person. Housing allows a person to take their medication on a consistent schedule without their pills being stolen. You can take care of personal hygiene in housing that is difficult while living in a shelter, and you can make meetings with health care professionals. Those in housing have regular sleep and can take care of their dietary needs. Housing is critical to have effective health outcomes. We know that those who spend a period of time living on the streets do reduce their lifespan. It is obvious that Housing is a Health care issue.
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