Unstable households account for over a third of health care spending in Saskatoon

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Unstable households account for over a third of health care spending in Saskatoon
WATCH ABOVE: Over one-third of health care spending in Saskatoon is for high-cost mental health and addiction clients, who make up just five per cent of the population and typically are in unstable housing – Sep 26, 2018

A new study considered to be the first of its kind in Canada is revealing some startling statistics when it comes to people living in Saskatoon without a fixed address.

Often those who move frequently or don’t know where they’re going to sleep from one day to the next, have complicated health care needs as well. This, in turn, leads to heavy utilization of emergency services and hospital sites in the city by these individuals.

“The costs of care incurred by the people captured in the study were about twice as high if you had unstable housing,” said Dr. Dennis Kendel, CEO of Saskatchewan’s Health Quality Council.

The study, conducted between 2009-15, compared those living with mental health and addiction issues who did not have a stable housing arrangement versus those who did.

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The study published in the Canadian Journal of Public Health showed that despite making up only five per cent of the population in Saskatoon, patients defined as high-cost individuals with mental health and addictions issues accounted for 35 per cent of total health care spending.

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The cost to the health care system was of $150 million a year during the period of the study.

“Making investments in the social determinants of health is a better investment than paying for health care down the road,” Kendel added.

The doctor said the ultimate priority is the people, but from a business perspective, optimal education, food security and more secure housing would be a good start to solving this problem.

Kendel admitted there is no single silver bullet when it comes to tackling a small segment of the population that uses a large amount of health care resources.

Shaun Dyck, with the Saskatoon Housing Initiatives Partnership, said he wasn’t shocked by the findings of the study and a shift for the positive will require a multi-factorial approach.

“We’ve seen over the last few years with the introduction of Housing First in Saskatoon, the effect of case management support as people live in independent living in private market housing,” Dyck said.

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“But we have to ensure people have access to mental health and addiction services.”

Any improvements made on this front would not only mean better health outcomes for this segment of the population but by freeing up health care resources everyone who requires health care services could benefit.

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