What is #HCHValue? Access, Quality, Justice, and Community

Written by Katherine Cavanaugh, NHCHC Consumer Advocate. This essay is part of our celebration of HCH Day.

Today on Health Care for the Homeless Day, part of National Health Center Week, we celebrate the work of HCH to meet the basic health care needs of people without homes, eliminate health disparities, and end homelessness. As we honor our #HCHValue, it is important that we consider the interplay of health care and housing and the invaluable work that HCH programs working at this intersection perform.

The Intersection of Housing and Health Care

Homelessness is a significant barrier to good health. Poor nutrition, inadequate hygiene, exposure to violence and weather-related illness and injury, increased risk of contracting communicable diseases, and the constant stress of housing instability all contribute to the health issues faced by individuals experiencing homelessness.

Without housing, what many see as a simple scrape endured from falling down can become infected, routine colds can develop into pneumonia, and manageable chronic diseases such as asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and HIV can become disabling, life-threatening, and costly conditions. Rates of all illnesses for people experiencing homelessness are three to six times higher than those of other populations, and life expectancy is 30 years shorter.

Individuals experiencing homelessness face complex health and social issues that are often integrated with trauma, and can cause or exacerbate behavioral and mental health issues.  These complex health issues lead to greater morbidity, mortality rates, and chronic conditions than the general public.

HCH programs work to provide accessible, quality, and comprehensive care.

Dispossessed people are often reluctant to seek services in a system that has failed to meet their needs, and competition to have all their needs met can keep them away from clinic doors. HCH organizations work to provide critical health care services in a comprehensive, team-based model that seeks to address the interconnected health and social problems faced by most individuals experiencing homelessness; drawing people in and treating them with dignity.

Comprehensive care is possible in HCH because a multitude of actors collaborate with those inside the medical exam room to address the needs of the whole person, including mental health, substance use disorder, and social needs.  Many HCH programs are also involved in innovative treatment models, such as patient-centered medical homes, permanent supportive housing, and medical respite care programs–which have the potential to lower system wide costs and improve the health and stability of homeless persons.

The work of HCH projects is critical for meeting the basic health care needs of the vulnerable population experiencing homelessness while eliminating health disparities and moving towards ending homelessness in our country. Without HCH programs, people without homes could end up lost in a health care system with poor follow-up and inability to meet needs adequately, leading to decreased access to primary care, increased emergency room visits, chronic hospitalizations, and higher mortality rates.

How do I Demonstrate the Value of my HCH?

Demonstrating the value of health centers is a necessary element to sustainability and measuring the importance of health delivery to underserved populations. Combining data and stories allows health centers to demonstrate measurable services and outcomes and the human impact those numbers have on the improvement of consumers’ lives. Learn how you can demonstrate the value of your HCH program with our helpful HCH Day resources.