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Health, Science & Environment

Utah Lawmaker Pushes for Funding To Help People Experiencing Homelessness After Hospital Visits

A photo of homeless encampments.
Emily Means
/
KUER
Residential medical respite centers care for people experiencing homelessness after they are released from the hospital, so they don’t have to go immediately back out on the streets. The idea is to help them get well so they don’t end up immediately back in the hospital.

Utah state Rep. Jim Dunnigan, R-Taylorsville, has unveiled a bill that would boost funding for facilities that provide medical care for people experiencing homelessness after they leave the hospital.

The money would come in the form of federal Medicaid funding and go to residential medical respite care facilities that have nurses on staff to help patients recover. The bill directs the state to apply for a federal Medicaid waiver to provide that funding.

The idea is to help people experiencing homelessness get well so they don’t end up immediately back in the hospital.

“The respite care center is much more cost effective than keeping them in a hospital or doing a revolving door of the emergency room,” Dunnigan said. “We're already paying for these people. We're just going to pay for it in a more effective way and help these people get better long term outcomes.”

To start, this would be a pilot program in one facility. Dunnigan is eyeing a facility in Salt Lake City, but he hopes to expand the effort if it's successful.

“The federal government [looks] at the cost benefit analysis,” Dunnigan said. “So they will look and see … how many of these have been released to the respite care center and not kept in the hospital? And what is the reduction in their ER visits versus what it was previously?”

Utah would cover 10% of the costs, and Dunnigan said it would cost the state about $200,000 a year.

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