Accessing medical care can be a challenge for homeless men and women due to lack of health insurance, lack of transportation, mental illness, and competing priorities like finding food and shelter. Premature death is four times as likely for the homeless, with an average age of death of just 48, as many suffer from acute chronic medical conditions. To help homeless men and women suffering from terminal illnesses, UW Medicine’s Harborview Medical Center partnered with the UW School of Public Health to launch the country’s first mobile palliative care program to serve the homeless.
Since its launch in early 2014, the program has reached more than a hundred homeless patients, with caregivers providing clinical care as well as emotional support. It is one of only a handful of mobile palliative care programs for the homeless in the world.
“These are people who were not able to receive the kind of care they needed towards the end of their lives, so they were dying on the streets, dying in the shelters,” said Dr. Daniel Lam, who runs the Homeless Palliative Care Outreach Program.
The program operates out of the hospital’s Pioneer Square Clinic in Seattle, with treatment paid for by Medicaid or charity care, and caregivers ensure that patients are following up on their treatments as needed. The pilot program is funded through the end of 2017 by a federal grant from the Health Resources and Services Administration. A 2016 report found that hospital stays were cut by a quarter and ER visits were cut in half for patients enrolled in the program for six months.