Geriatric Homelessness: Association with Emergency Department Utilization
Homeless adults frequently use emergency departments (EDs), yet previous studies investigating ED utilization by the older segment received little attention. This study sought to characterize older homeless adults who utilized local urban EDs.
ED encounters at three hospitals in Hamilton (Ont.) were analyzed, and demographic and clinical characteristics of the older homeless (age > 50) vs. younger counterparts (age ≤ 50) were compared during a 24-month period.
Of all adults, 1,330 were homeless, of whom 66% were above age 50. Older homeless adults sought less acute care within 30 days from an index visit compared with their younger counterparts. Non-acute illnesses constituted only 18% of triaged cases. Older homeless women with access to a primary care physician (PCP) were 3.3 times more likely to return to ED within 30 days, whereas older homeless men (irrespective of PCP access) were less likely to return to ED.
Despite high homeless patient acuity, a lesser number of ED visits with increasing age remains concerning because of previously reported high morbidity and mortality rates. Access to primary care may not be enough to reduce ED utilization. Further research is needed to evaluate acute care interventions and their effectiveness in ED, and to identify homeless patients requiring more targeted services.
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