4.01.2009

A Cheaper Alternative Than the ER

What would you think if I suggested creating subsidized housing for chronic alcoholics? When this was teased on the news the other night, my friends all groaned, but I pointed out "you're already housing them in the ER and paying for it." There's got to be a cheaper, better way.  Now this from the Seattle P-I: 
A  study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association and led by a University of Washington researcher, found that the once-controversial 1811 program -- which provides housing and services without demanding sobriety -- saved taxpayers more than $4 million in one year.

"It was perceived that we were opening a party house where people could drink and run amok and generally set their hair on fire," said Bill Hobson, executive director of the Downtown Emergency Service Center. The agency opened the home in 2005, after years of protests.

"This research shows that this is not the case."

Researchers followed 95 chronically homeless alcoholics, who, before moving into the home, had run up a taxpayer bill of $8.2 million in hospitalizations, emergency services, jail time and sobering center visits.

After one year of being in the program, the same group cost taxpayers only $4 million, the study found. Each resident also drank less the longer they lived in the home, and their toll on publicly funded programs decreased as time went on.

"One of the overwhelming sentiments was just how much better life was at 1811," said Mary Larimer, a UW professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and lead author of the study.

"Certainly, it is much easier (to change) when you are not cold, hungry and scared, and have a few meaningful events in your life."

Larimer also compared residents against a control group of 39 homeless alcoholics on a wait-list to get into the home. She found that the residents, after six months of being in the home, cost taxpayers 50 percent less than the wait-listed group.

The research represents the first controlled study to look at the Seattle program, which is part of a national model called "Housing First," in which people can live in subsidized homes and get services without having to give up drinking or attend treatment.
Read the Full Study

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