Written by Ruth Schwartz, Executive Director
Mitchell H. Katz, MD, was recently appointed director of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services (DHS), and has hit the ground running with an initiative to address the health
and housing needs of homeless individuals who inappropriately use health care services, referred as “frequent users.” In collaboration with the City of Los Angeles, the DHS Supportive Housing Projects will provide scattered-site housing and integrated health and social services for 56 individuals in South Los Angeles.
Most often, individuals who are frequent users of health care services have
a chronic health condition and have both untreated serious mental illness and issues with substance abuse. They are unable to manage their health care and resort to obtaining services through expensive systems of care including the paramedics, emergency rooms, and hospitals.
A recent series in the U-T San Diego provides an excellent documentary of this issue. The series highlights the journey of a 51-year old homeless women who cost the taxpayers nearly $60,000 in 2010. After she received supportive housing and wrap-around services provided in 2011, her public cost was reduced nearly in half.
Prior to coming to Los Angeles last year, Dr. Katz was the Director of the San Francisco Department of Public Health, a position that he held for 13 years. Long an advocate for the poor and homeless, one of his signature accomplishments was the creation of the “Healthy San Francisco” initiative that established primary care medical homes that improved health outcomes and reduced medical care costs.
It is often said that housing is health care. With this initiative, which will provide housing with integrated services, Dr. Katz both walks the walk and talks the talk.