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Better Health Through Housing

Improving the Health of Our Community Through Housing and Support

There is an ongoing problem in emergency rooms across the country: A small contingent of visitors — often poor and afflicted with disease like diabetes, congestive heart failure, kidney disease, mental illness, and substance abuse — account for a disproportionately large amount of ER-related healthcare costs. Commonly referred to as "frequent fliers," a significant percentage of this group also is chronically homeless.

Chronic homelessness is one of society's most intractable social issues, and it bears devastating health consequences. The chronically homeless have an increased risk of poor outcomes from persistent disease, and they live up to 15 years less than the average American. UI Health believes that one of the first steps to improving the health of these patients is by helping them secure permanent housing with a steadfast support system. Because of this, UI Health launched Better Health Through Housing.

Better Health Through Housing, a partnership with the Center for Housing and Health, aims to reduce healthcare costs and provide stability for the chronically homeless by moving individuals directly from hospital emergency rooms into stable, supportive housing, with intensive case management. The UI Health Hospital & Clinics committed $250,000 to help launch the initiative, and it is the only Chicago-area hospital working on this type of healthcare-and-housing enterprise.

"Improving the health of our community is at the core of UI Health's mission, which is why we are so passionate about this project," says Dr. Avijit Ghosh, CEO of the UI Health Hospital & Clinics. "A stable environment is the first step toward establishing long-term health. Better Health Through Housing is taking proven steps to positively impact the health and lives of Chicago's most vulnerable individuals." Better Health Through Housing is based on the Housing First strategy for addressing homelessness. Along with housing, individuals are assigned a case manager who helps them with scheduling medical appointments and managing money, and refers them to other needed services.

The initiative's combination of healthcare, housing, and human services fosters a sense of home, independence, and self-determination to help speed individuals' reintegration into the community, promotes long-term health, and reduces overall healthcare costs.

"We see funding housing as a way of improving health," says Ghosh. "Actions like this are important to address the problems facing our community. By helping those who rely on UI Health, we're improving the health of both the individuals and our community overall."