Community Partnerships to Provide Health Care for People Experiencing Homelessness

Meeting the needs for and supporting people experiencing homelessness is a major concern for many communities, and Anchorage is no exception. In 2016, a rising number of emergency responses to Anchorage’s largest shelter (the Brother Francis shelter) and soup kitchen led to increased emergency room usage in Anchorage’s hospitals. In response, the city’s hospitals joined together to build a clinic that would allow health care services to be provided at the shelter. This helped reduce the number of emergency calls, saving hospitals and taxpayers over $1 million in one year.

Prior to 2017, the Brother Francis shelter had a small clinic that was staffed by volunteers and was often open once a week, usually in the evenings. It had high staff turnover, which meant that the people who used it would often not see the same provider, resulting in fragmented care that was not as effective as it could have been. Lack of access and transportation resulted in some people not going to their appointments, or calling 9-1-1 for issues that were not emergencies.

In response, Anchorage’s three major hospitals, Providence Alaska Medical Center, Alaska Regional, and Alaska Native Medical Center, which is jointly managed by Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium and SCF, joined with local businesses and community groups to finance the design and construction of a new clinic. SCF provides the staff to run the clinic, which opened in April of 2017.

In the year after the clinic opened, calls for emergency medical responders to the shelter fell from 250 per month to 90 per month, and calls to police fell from 230 per month to 100. While there are multiple factors for the decrease, the overall response to the clinic from the people who use it and the community has been positive. SCF is currently considering bringing mental and behavioral health services to the clinic, as there are unmet behavioral needs in individuals experiencing homelessness in Anchorage.

While there is still work to be done in meeting the needs of people experiencing homelessness, this approach shows that health care organizations partnering with the community can have a positive impact and reduce the demand for emergency services. For more information about SCF’s Brother Francis clinic, please contact the SCF Learning Institute.