Bay Area cities have been battling the problem of homelessness for many years. Now Bay Area researchers have carried out the first-ever national study on healthcare and the homeless, and, as Healthbeat team doctor Kim Mulvihill reports, the results are bleak.
The homeless have become a familiar site in the Bay Area and in cities across America. In fact, it’s estimated that about one percent of Americans will experience an episode of homelessness every year. Those most at risk are the poor, the mentally ill, and victims of abuse.
“What we know from this study and from others is that the homeless people are really a very vulnerable part of our population who really suffer terrible burdens of illness and early deaths even,” says Dr. Margot Kushel of SF General.
Researchers at San Francisco General Hospital studied the health and healthcare of nearly 3,000 homeless people nationwide. Almost half reported at least one major illness or health problem, while almost three quarters experienced either a mental health or substance abuse problem. Not surprisingly access to care was a big issue.
“They’re less likely to use outpatient care, care in clinics or private physicians offices,” says Dr. Kushel. “We also found that homeless people were very likely having difficulty accessing care and having difficulty complying with prescription medications.”
The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association says even when the homeless had some form of health insurance, like through the VA, they did not access care as much as they could.
“If you’re homeless and you don’t have a telephone, you may not have a place to get mail, you may or may not be able to read, and you may be psychiatrically impaired, you may not be aware of what your benefits due to you from your past service in the military,” says Dr. Kushel.
The researchers say we need to increase coverage and increase awareness of the services that are available to help the homeless.