Youth health attorneys train doctors on identifying, treating homeless patients

By Graham Bowman, CCH Equal Justice Works fellow

This week I joined with another youth health attorney to train 15 resident physicians at Chicago’s Presence Saints Mary and Elizabeth Medical Center, 2233 W. Division Street.

Sarah Hess of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law joined me for Thursday’s training session, teaching new doctors about the unique barriers homeless people face when they seek access to healthcare services and follow-up care. 

The doctors learned that the vast majority of people who experience homelessness are not the people who appear to be visibly, chronically homeless through living on the streets. Ninety percent of homeless people are sleeping in cars or motels, or “house hopping” from place to place. Because of transient, unstable living situations, homeless people face significant barriers following up on treatment plans or even getting to a doctor’s office in the first place.

Residents learned how to better identify patients who are homeless. We suggested seven things they can do to make it easier for homeless individuals to access quality healthcare, including:

1. Helping homeless patients access a shelter.

2. Treating uninsured patients as well as connecting them with a navigator to obtain Medicaid, which reimburses providers for uncompensated care recently provided to newly-covered patients.

3. Helping homeless patients access non-emergency Medicaid transportation to their followup appointments.

4. Providing homeless patients with copies of their Medicaid Recipient Identification number, which they can use to access services without the medical card in hand.