Study: Homeless Health Care Program In Phoenix Saves Public Money

By Mariana Dale
Published: Monday, April 16, 2018 - 8:30am
Updated: Monday, April 16, 2018 - 9:41am

(Photo by Jackie Hai - KJZZ)
James Martz’s routine changed when he became a client at Circle the City. Now each day starts out in the clinic where he receives medicine from a nurse.

A federally funded study shows a Phoenix-area nonprofit that cares for the homeless could save the state millions of dollars each year.

Circle the City treats people who aren’t sick enough to stay in a hospital, but have nowhere else to heal.

“If we can find better ways of serving this population, it will contribute to these dual goals of having a health system that responds to some of the people that experience the greatest challenges and also to control the high cost of health care,” said Dr. Donald Shepard is a professor and researcher at Brandeis University, which helped in the study.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services funded the $2.7 million study as part of its Health Care Innovation Awards, which were created through the Affordable Care Act.

The National Health Care for the Homeless Council selected five respite care centers to study, including Circle the City in Phoenix.  

“You don’t know that that’s what’s happening unless you do studies like this with more rigorous data and methodologies,” said Cynthia Tschampl, researcher at Brandeis. 

MORE: End-Of-Life Care Is A New Begining For Some Homeless Patients

Circle the City has about 50 beds where clients recovering from surgery, chemotherapy or other illnesses can stay. The facility also has about six beds for end-of-life care.

The study found Phoenix patients who recovered in respite care spent 56 percent fewer Medicaid funds in the months following their release from Circle the City than those before.

“It helps reduce use of hospital care and emergency rooms,” Shepard said. “People don’t stay as long, they have fewer readmissions and fewer emergency room use.”

The study projected the savings from just 309 clients would be $4.3 million in a year.

Circle the City’s clients were also offered help quitting tobacco (34 percent were interested)  and flu shots (81 percent received a vaccine or where already protected).

RELATED: Circle The City Takes On Health Care For Homeless Population In Phoenix Area

Of the five programs studied, Circle the City was the most successful in finding housing for its clients— 92 percent of clients discharged went directly into housing, not back to the streets or emergency shelters.

“The human dignity also that they gave to their clients was extraordinary,” Shepard said.

Business Science