Medical respite care is acute and post-acute medical care for people experiencing homelessness who are too ill or frail to recover from an illness or injury on the streets, but who are not ill enough to be in a hospital. These programs provide short-term residential services (often in a shelter or transitional program) coupled with support services and access to medical care.

While medical respite programs are tailored to community needs and resources and vary by size, facility type, and care model, all programs share the same philosophy and guiding principles and are grounded in the Standards for Medical Respite Care. All programs include the same practical key components: 24-hour access to a bed, three meals per day, transportation to all medical appointments, a safe space to store personal items, and care coordination. Medical respite programs have demonstrated positive outcomes by contributing to decreased length of hospital stays, decreased emergency department utilization or readmissions, and increased health and well-being of program participants.

Hospitals have a history as long-standing partners for medical respite programs. The existence of a medical respite program within a community helps hospitals ensure a safe discharge location for people experiencing homelessness who need a place to rest and recuperate. More than half of existing medical respite programs receive at least some of their funding from hospitals, and hospitals are typically the primary referral source. Hospitals look to medical respite programs to provide a more appropriate placement for recovery, link patients to community and housing resources, assist in reducing patients’ lengths of stay and readmission rates, and ensure they are following laws and policies that prevent hospitals from discharging clients without a safe plan or location.

Developing a partnership between hospitals and medical respite programs presents opportunities and benefits to both entities. However, this partnership is a relationship that requires communication and for both entities to understand each other’s needs and priorities, even when values, such as providing high-quality care, are aligned. Although funding for medical respite programs often is a central part of the partnership, there are other key ways that hospitals can partner with medical respite programs, and, more importantly, better serve community members experiencing homelessness.

View our webinar, Medical Respite Care: A Resource for Hospitals and Communities, on Jan. 30, from 2 – 3 pm ET, to learn how essential hospitals can play a role in medical respite care.