Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, is president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Medical Center.

Today is an exciting day for the University of Vermont Medical Center, for our partners at the Champlain Housing Trust and Community Health Centers of Burlington, and most importantly, for the patients we treat every day who experience homelessness. Today, we cut the ribbon on the new Bel Aire Apartments in Burlington, Vermont. These apartments will provide shorter-term and permanent options for people who are living in tents, on the street, or who are staying in a hospital bed because they lack a safe place to recover from illness or injury.

Hospitals serve many roles in our communities. We provide health care services to those in need, we research the latest treatments and we employ many of our neighbors. We also identify opportunities to partner with others to improve the overall health of our local population.

Homelessness: A New Approach to a Chronic Problem

In 2013, a shortage in affordable housing was highlighted as a top health need by our clinicians, community partners, and patients in our Community Health Needs Assessment.

If a patient is discharged from the hospital without a safe and reliable place to store medication or simply to sleep, it can be difficult to avoid a trip back to the Emergency Room. The UVM Medical Center helps patients we serve who are experiencing homelessness to find housing, so they can focus on getting better.

In the past four years, we have partnered with state government and private nonprofits on a variety of different projects and initiatives. Together, we:

  • Provide funding for and discharge patients to Harbor Place in Shelburne;
  • Help fund the services provided at Beacon Apartments in South Burlington;
  • Partner with Support And Services at Home;
  • Help fund the Street Outreach initiative through Howard Center;
  • Participate in the Chittenden County Homeless Alliance; and
  • Help fund and provide services for the Warming Shelters in Burlington.

We are proud to partner with so many other agencies to address local housing needs, and believe that these collaborations have contributed to the nearly 50 percent reduction in homelessness in Chittenden County that has occurred over the past three years – along with savings of $1 million in health care expenses over the same period.

The Future: What The Bel Aire Apartments Will Offer

Bel Aire Apartments is the latest in our list of initiatives. Individuals staying in the eight apartments will have access to onsite case management and social work services provided by the Community Health Centers of Burlington, referrals for home health services, or continued care by their health care providers.

By connecting people with the tools and services they need to stay out of the hospital, we can manage health care costs on a statewide level. We are in a time of incredible change in the way we pay for and deliver health ­­­­­care in Vermont. So many opportunities come with transitioning to a system that rewards health care providers for the overall quality of the care we provide our community, rather than for every test or exam we perform.

Treating housing as an integral piece of the health care puzzle has proven to help patients recover and begin to build a foundation for living healthier lives. For that reason, I am excited to join our community partners in opening the Bel Aire Apartments today, and look forward to the next step on this journey.

Watch a video about how we are ending chronic homelessness in Burlington, Vt. through our work with community partners. 

Eileen Whalen, MHA, RN, is president and chief operating officer of the University of Vermont Medical Center.

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