Denver Health to provide housing for patients

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DENVER - Denver Health Medical Center is about to try something that just a few hospitals in the entire country are doing.

It doesn't have anything to do with new technology or a new procedure.

Instead, the hospital is about to offer some of its most vulnerable patients housing.

"It’s really exciting to be part of a new way of thinking to try to help our patients," said Dr. Sarah Stella, a Denver Health hospitalist.

Specifically, she's talking about patients who don't have a safe home where they can return. In some cases, they can't be legally discharged if they need follow-up care.

The patients end up staying at the hospital even though they don't need medically need to be there.

"There are well-known risks to remaining in a hospital when you don’t need to remain in a hospital any longer...risk of infection, falls, things like that," Stella said.

Plus, there's the cost.

On an average day, about 30 patients who fall into this category are occupying beds at Denver Health.

The cost of each bed, per day, is about $2,700.

Each of these patients stays for an average of 55 days at a cost of nearly $150,000, according to Peg Burnette, Denver Health's chief financial officer.

"Our all-time high is 1,580 days," Burnette told FOX31.

The cost of that patient was more than $4 million.

Burnette said in just about all of these cases, Denver Health ends up paying for the patient's care.

"Really, when you think about the costs, Denver Health eats it," Burnette said. "But sooner or later, either taxpayers or consumers pay for health care. So one way or another, ultimately taxpayers or consumers are picking up this cost."

But that's about to change.

Denver Health is about to start providing housing for some of these patients in partnerships with both the Denver Housing Authority and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

"I think it’s going to be life changing for some," Stella said. "It feels good as a physician to be able to not continue to send someone out to the streets and continue that cycle of getting sicker and needing to return to the hospital."

Within the next few weeks, 10 Denver Health Medicaid patients who didn't have a home will have one at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless's Fusion Studios, the former Quality Inn off Quebec Street.

"Hopefully when we house them, we’ll be able to work on not only housing stability, but improving health outcomes and lower healthcare costs," said Cathy Alderman, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless Vice President of Communications and Public Policy.

"It means they can start to recover and they can start to address their healthcare issues...whether physical health or behavioral health issues," Alderman said. "It means they’ll have a place to stabilize instead of having to go back out to the street, back to the elements and back to the ER."

But that's not the only place Denver Health plans to house patients.

It's in the process of selling its old administration building at 655 Broadway to the Denver Housing Authority.

When the sale closes later this year, the Housing Authority plans to spend $19 million in the next two years and renovate the building into affordable housing.

Then Denver Health will lease one floor - 14 studios - and use them as transitional housing for patients who are 62 and older who need a home.

"We really started to understand the challenges the hospital was having with homeless patients who come through their ER, get the care they need, and are ready to be discharged. But because they were homeless before, they don’t have a place to go to complete their recovery," said Ismael Guerrero, Denver Housing Authority Executive Director.

The cost of each studio, including a care manager who will help make sure patients get the follow-up treatment they need, will be just $10,000 for an entire year.

If both housing plans are successful, Denver Health and its partners would like to expand them in the future.

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