Why is healthcare important in crisis accommodation?

Launch Housing Southbank, which opened in the 1980s, is one of the largest crisis accommodation sites in Melbourne. It offers short stays of up to eight weeks for people experiencing homelessness, many of whom have a range of highly complex needs.

Without a stable home, it is difficult for those experiencing homelessness to access health care, especially ‘primary care’ such as a General Practitioner, nurse or health centre. We know that this has serious implications and life expectancy decreases for people experiencing long term homelessness.

That’s why since 2016 we have provided on-site nursing consultations for people who require clinical care for acute and chronic health issues, as well as mental health challenges and other medical needs. Nursing consultations at Southbank crisis accommodation are provided by fully qualified community health nurses from Star Health.

Healthcare & Homelessness

People experiencing homelessness can find meeting basic needs a constant challenge. When they also experience health issues it can be difficult to choose between finding a place to stay for the night or attending to their medical needs.

Challenges can also arise when engaging with healthcare services and can include:

  • Difficulty arranging and attending healthcare appointments,
  • Issues with self-administering treatments and medications; and
  • Affordability of healthcare.

Overall, people experiencing homelessness are significantly over-represented when it comes to nearly all disease and mortality statistics in Australia. They are also more inclined to regularly visit the emergency department, and are increasingly at risk of a plethora of health issues.
This can include mental health diagnoses, substance use, chronic disease, musculoskeletal disorders, skin and foot problems, oral health issues, as well as infectious diseases. This is frequently seen in people sleeping rough which accounts for 7% of all homelessness.

Philanthropically Funded Healthcare Response Program

“This integrated healthcare response at Launch Housing Southbank is philanthropically funded by The Shine On Foundation and is meaningful for people who often feel marginalised and isolated by their experience,” said Launch Housing Southbank Site Manager.

Of the 610 people who were housed at Southbank between January 2017 when the program launched and August 2018, 82% (498 residents) attended nursing consultations.

Qualified on-site clinical staff provide nursing consultations for people who require treatments, as well as coordinate medications, and appointments for individuals who often have difficulty arranging and attending appointments. The clinical care program offers:

  • General health assessments
  • Chronic disease management
  • Wound care
  • Assistance with detox preparations
  • Substance use education
  • Emergency medical response
  • Liaising with hospitals in emergencies

The on-site nurse also provides education sessions for diabetes, sexual health, smoking cessation, Naloxone use and other medical issues.

Nursing consultations improve the health outcomes for people supported at Southbank as well as provide important support for unmanaged chronic health conditions and mental health challenges, while rebuilding people’s confidence in healthcare providers.

New Occupational Therapist

Some individuals have conditions impeding their mental, physical, developmental, social or emotional capabilities. Therefore, a new on-site Occupational Therapist works with people to improve their ability to perform tasks in their daily living and working environments.

This improvement to the program provides extra health, and well-being assistance as at times residents can need support with nutrition, health literacy, cooking and connections to employment pathways. In the last four months since the Occupational Therapist started they’ve assisted 163 individuals through group activities as well as individual health support.

The Healthcare Response Program has been enormously beneficial, and we’ve seen an increase in nursing consultations as we break down barriers to accessing healthcare services and medical treatments for people experiencing homelessness.

Launch Housing Health Response Program is a finalist in 2019 VicHealth Awards.