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The Whole Person Care program brings health care directly to homeless people

Going to an out-of-network emergency room can be costly.
Going to an out-of-network emergency room can be costly.
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If you are homeless and you get sick, you'll probably end up in an emergency room.

The problem is that the ER is typically the most expensive way to provide medical care. 

This is prompting a lot of initiatives to look for cheaper - and more efficient ways - to treat homeless patients.

One program that is gaining support is California's Whole Person Care pilot program -- because it is bringing the health care straight to homeless where they are: on the streets.

"It's about trying to cut our health care costs by catching our most needy and sickest and poorest people before they wind up in the emergency room," Anita Chabria, a reporter for the Sacramento Bee told Take Two's A Martinez.

Several counties, including Los Angeles, have signed up for the Whole Person Care program. But Sacramento recently voted to be the only place to offer it as a city.

"Normally this is a program that counties, tribal agencies and health care consortiums have to apply for, but when our county declined to do it, our mayor said, 'Hey, why can’t the city do it itself?'" Chabria said.  

"He was able to make a call to the state and get permission to do this just as a city. And on June 1st the federal government gave us permission to be the only city in the program."

On how the program works

"It's actually a statewide pilot program. So it works a little bit differently in different places. What we did here is to get all of our major health care providers to come on board. They're going to set up a database that shares information across their system to figure out who the most frequent users of the emergency room are. What they're expecting to find is that many of those people will also fall under our homeless category. Many with ongoing chronic physical or mental health issues."

On bringing health care directly to people on the street

"We're not going to be providing heavy health care on the street, but what I mean by that is that they'll send out people who will intervene and get a heavy user of medical care into a stable situation. Whereas then they don't have to rely on the emergency room."

Answers have been edited for clarity.

To listen to the whole interview, please click on the blue player above