A Safe Place to Heal: Medical Respite for Those Experiencing Homelessness

Having a home — or not having a home — may have a profound effect on a person’s health care. This is especially true after a hospital stay, when a care team decides to send a person home to recuperate after surgery or injury.

But if there’s no home to return to, where do you go? 

Medical respite care, also known as recuperative care, works to help those experiencing homelessness recover in a safe place. With about 65 diverse facilities around the country, it’s designed for when a hospital may no longer be necessary for someone who needs continuing recuperation, but long-term housing or daytime homeless shelters that might be able to meet their medical needs are not available. 

Medical respite care seeks to bridge that gap — by providing a safe place to get better, and to help with  follow-up services that may be needed. Respite care may be found in different ways, depending on the community. It can be connected to a homeless shelter or apartment complex, or operate as a standalone entity. 

With the onset of COVID-19 in the country, the need for medical respite care has become even more acute for this vulnerable population. As part of a $5 million grant to assist people who are experiencing homelessness, the United Health Foundation is deploying $2.5 million of the grant to accelerate both housing and medical respite solutions with the National Healthcare for the Homeless Council (NHCHC). This grant will impact 10-15 communities nationwide, starting with Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans, Houston and Las Vegas.

Before the grant announcement, UnitedHealthcare had been working with the NHCHC to implement a series of nationwide approaches for financing medical respite care, and co-authored the review of best practices for funding, particularly via managed Medicaid. 

“We are working with the NHCHC to explore how medical respite can be used to isolate individuals who test positive for COVID-19,” said Andy McMahon, vice president of Health and Human Services Policy for UnitedHealthcare. 

While the main goal is offering a safe and restful place with services for those in need, another is to reduce hospital readmissions, as well as improving outcomes for the patient.

Other efforts to support those who are homeless has involved medical respite care. For example, the Clinical Redesign program in Phoenix, has used local medical respite programs to identify those eligible for stabilized housing and coordinated care.   

Medical respite care may be one way to streamline the hospital discharge process for vulnerable members of a community. We believe it can make an impact in increasing both the quality and access to care for those without homes. 

“We are proud to be supporting and partnering with organizations doing work on the frontlines of this battle to save and improve lives,” Andy said.