For a homeless person who’s cold or hungry or intoxicated, the emergency room is often the first place they’ll think to go to find warmth, a sandwich, or a place to spend the night.
“That’s the place where potentially a person’s needs can be met 24 hours a day,” said Maggie Sullivan, a doctor of public health candidate at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. But some of these emergency room visits may not truly be medical emergencies. And it’s possible that frequent ER visitors wouldn’t wind up there so often if they had other options, such as getting into a detox program or seeing a primary care provider on a regular basis.
Sullivan is part of a student team trying to develop strategies to improve health outcomes for homeless individuals while decreasing their reliance on emergency department visits and hospital stays. It’s an 18-month project being conducted in partnership with the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program (BHCHP). The Harvard students are being funded through an Agents of Change grant from Harvard’s Center for Primary Care. Agents of Change grants charge Harvard students to develop innovations in primary health care delivery, in partnership with community health centers.