The following is a guest post from Michael, author of the SLO Homeless blog. Michael was once homeless himself and provides his perspective on homeless medical needs, recovery, etc. below. Be sure to visit Michael’s blog as well!
There is no cure for the common cold. That’s just the reality of life. The best a person can hope to do is go to the local pharmacy and buy one of the many over the counter remedies – which only make it easier to cope with the symptoms at best. If the symptoms are a bit more severe, the person may take a day or two off from work and “sleep it off.”
For the millions of American’s who just happen to be a part of this nation’s homeless population, even the common cold can make an already stressful life all the more harsh.
According to the National Coalition for the Homeless fact sheet, Health Care and Homelessness,
“Poor health is closely associated with homelessness. For families struggling to pay the rent, a serious illness or disability can start a downward spiral into homelessness, beginning with a lost job, depletion of savings to pay for care, and eventual eviction.”
However, for those who are homeless, health care issues do not stop there.
While many communities offer some form of government sponsored indigent health care services for their local homeless, lack of adequate funding severely limits the quality of medical services available to the homeless – particularly for those who have chronic health issues. For those who have on-going medical needs for such conditions as diabetes, respiratory or cardiac diseases, addiction disorders, and mental heath issues, the lack of stable housing makes it a near impossibility to keep their conditions from worsening.
Additionally, a lack of accessibility to proper nutrition, regular hygiene care and even sleep, often times means that the homeless have a less robust auto-immune system. This places them at risk of contracting numerous bacterial and viral infections.
Among those homeless who utilize local homeless shelters, the incidence of upper respiratory infections is higher than those of their non-homeless counterparts. Since most homeless shelters utilize a dormitory style methodology for providing shelter, this forces the clientele into close proximity with others. Consequently, if one or two of the homeless have an upper respiratory infection, there is a high probability that the majority of the clientele will also develop the infection. It is not unusual for many homeless to develop “shelter cough.”
There is a higher price to be paid by the community when there is a lack of proper medical services for the area’s homeless.
Although most of a community’s homeless are aware of the availability of medical services, many of them do not utilize these services immediately upon becoming sick. This is often times a result of the distances that must be traveled to obtain these services. In some communities, the homeless support services agencies are located in a more remote or industrialized section of the municipality while medical services may perhaps be located on the “other side of town.”
As a result, a medical condition – which had it been treated at the onset – worsens until the person finds themselves with no other option but a visit to the emergency room. In the long term, these emergency room visits cost the community more in taxpayer dollars than it would to fund preventative and supportive medical services.
Moreover, since the homeless are unable to pay for emergency room visits, the hospital is required to “write off” the costs. This writing off of costs isn’t completely dismissed however. They are ultimately passed on to the rest of the community as hospitals are required to increase their prices to cover their operational expenses.
With the ubiquity of prepaid services these days, it might be wise for us as a society to take that approach when it comes to providing adequate medical services to our nations’ homeless.
It’s up to us. We can choose to take the more cost effective route and “pre-pay” for those services; or we can choose to pay after the fact. But, have no doubt about it – the invoice will have to be paid for one way or another.
It’s been my experience that it’s less expensive to get it right the first time, than it is to have pay the extra costs the second time around.
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