Chronically homeless adults with severe alcohol problems are disproportionately burdened with health-care problems and are high utilizers of emergency medical services (EMS). Single-site Housing First (HF), which provides immediate, permanent, low-barrier, nonabstinence-based, supportive housing, has been associated with reduced publicly funded service utilization. The aims of the current study were to determine whether time spent in single-site HF predicted decreases in EMS contacts 2 years subsequent to single-site HF move-in, and to describe medical conditions and injuries associated with EMS contacts in a sample of chronically homeless individuals with severe alcohol problems.
Participants were 91 chronically homeless adults with severe alcohol problems who were enrolled in a single-site HF program between December 2005 and March 2007 in Seattle, Washington. We obtained administrative data on exposure to HF and EMS utilization for the 2 years prior to and the 2 years subsequent to participants’ move-in date. EMS utilization variables included patient type (i.e., primary presenting problem), trauma/injury mechanism (i.e., EMS classification of the cause of the trauma or injury), level of care (i.e., basic life support, advanced life support), and transport destination.
After controlling for baseline EMS contacts, participants evinced 3% fewer EMS contacts for each additional month of single-site HF exposure. From the baseline to follow-up period, the mean number of EMS contacts declined from 15.85 (SD = 22.96) to 9.54 (SD = 15.08), representing a 54% reduction in the number of EMS contacts. Most calls were responded to by EMTs providing basic life support, and the majority resulted in transport to a local level I trauma center. The most common presenting difficulties were medical illness and trauma. Substance use and psychiatric difficulties were infrequently documented as the primary problem.
Our findings support recent assertions that housing is health care and indicate that the amount of time spent in single-site HF is associated with significant reductions in EMS utilization for at least 2 years subsequent to move-in. These findings also underscore the high levels of medical illness and trauma exposure among chronically homeless adults with severe alcohol problems.