From Kaiser Health News:
One patient at Denver Health, the city’s largest safety net hospital, occupied a bed for more than four years — a hospital record of 1,558 days.
Another admitted for a hard-to-treat bacterial infection needed eight weeks of at-home IV antibiotics, but had no home.
A third, with dementia, came to the hospital after being released from the Denver County Jail. His family refused to take him back.
In the first half of this year alone, the hospital treated more than 100 long-term patients. All had a medical issue that led to their initial hospitalization. But none of the patients had a medical reason for remaining in the hospital for most of their stay.
Legally and morally, hospitals cannot discharge patients if they have no safe place to go. So patients who are homeless, frail or live alone, or have unstable housing, can occupy hospital beds for weeks or months — long after their acute medical problem is resolved. For hospitals, it means losing money because a patient lingering in a bed without medical problems doesn’t generate much, if any, income. Meanwhile, acutely ill patients may wait days in the ER to be moved to a floor because a hospital’s beds are full.
“Those people are, for lack of a better term, stranded in our hospital,” said Dr. Sarah Stella, a Denver Health physician.
To address the problem, hospitals from Baltimore to St. Louis to Sacramento, Calif., are exploring ways to help patients find a home. With recent federal policy changes that encourage hospitals to allocate charity dollars for housing, many hospitals realize it’s cheaper to provide a month of housing than to keep patients for a single night.
Hospital executives find the calculus works even if they have to build affordable housing units themselves. It’s why Denver Health is partnering with the Denver Housing Authority to repurpose a mothballed building on the hospital campus into affordable senior housing, including about 15 apartments designated to help homeless patients transition out of the hospital.
Read Kaiser Health News' article "Why Denver Hospitals Are Getting Into The Housing Business," featuring the Denver Housing Authority.