Too often, homeless people receive medical treatment only after an emergency. Hospitals and medical schools are trying to change that.
More than 550,000 people in the United States are estimated to be homeless on any given night, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development . And those who are homeless also are likely to have medical needs that go unmet or receive treatment only after a medical emergency occurs.
Today, medical schools and teaching hospitals are working to provide vulnerable patients with more and higher-quality medical care. Homeless people often have conditions that are aggravated by sporadic care and the rigors of their living situations, from chronic diseases such as diabetes to acute ailments, mental illness, or substance addiction.
The once-common attitude, “treat ’em and street ’em,” about health care for the homeless is giving way to greater awareness about providing homeless people with meaningful medical services. “This is a really complex population that requires much more intense observation and care than we have probably thought about in the past,” said James O’Connell, MD, president of Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP), an organization that provides comprehensive care to about 12,000 homeless adults and children.