Accessing medical care is beyond the reach of many people experiencing homelessness. With the launch of our mobile-van program, UCLA Health takes a major step toward improving access to care for vulnerable populations by bringing essential health care services to where they are needed most.
UCLA HEALTH HAS AN ENDURING COMMITMENT to providing quality health care to our community, but there are many for whom necessary services are out of reach. These are the men and women who live without permanent shelter throughout the Greater Los Angeles area. California has the largest number of people experiencing homelessness in the country, an estimated 160,000. There are more than 66,000 unhoused people in Los Angeles County, with 41,290 in the Greater Los Angeles area. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused an increase in the number of people experiencing homelessness due to unforeseen economic hardship — an average of 227 people in L.A. County become homeless every day.
How can we best help? By doing what we know how to do best and working to provide this vulnerable population with access to high-quality medical care. That is why we have joined together with community-health and social-service organization partners to create the UCLA Health Homeless Healthcare Collaborative. Our mission is straightforward: to promote greater health equity and improved clinical outcomes by expanding access to comprehensive, high-quality health care and social services to those who are most in need. In the initial phase of this program that launched in January, we deployed a fleet of medically equipped vans to provide quality primary- and urgent-care services to areas throughout the city that have the greatest need, to be followed by additional vans providing medical and behavioral-health services throughout Los Angeles County.
It is our hope that by creating this durable structure, we can play a significant role in improving the lives of so many people who too-often fall between the cracks. At UCLA Health, we see firsthand the detrimental health consequences that can be brought on by homelessness. Over the last five years, UCLA Health’s emergency departments have treated approximately 15,000 unique individuals for various medical, psychiatric and social needs. Of those visits, 85% have been due to primary- or urgent-care conditions that can be prevented or treated in a community setting, while 15% required specialty care or inpatient admission. Providing quality care not only improves the overall health of people experiencing homelessness, it also improves their chances of receiving housing and employment opportunities.
The pandemic has heightened awareness of inequities in health care and brought them more clearly into focus. It is essential that we do our part to address these longstanding disparities. Our Homeless Healthcare Collaborative is another component of UCLA Health’s ongoing effort and commitment to providing comprehensive and equitable health care in our community. This commitment has been demonstrated through our many community-outreach efforts. These include our UCLA Mobile Eye Clinic, our partnership with the Venice Family Clinic’s Homeless Healthcare Program, the Student Run Homeless Clinic and Mobile Clinic Project, health-promotion partnerships with the Los Angeles Lakers Foundation and Los Angeles Dodgers Foundation, as well as many other community-service and engagement efforts.
We will continue to work with key partners to identify areas of greatest need in our community and deepen our institutional commitment to advance health equity. The UCLA Health Homeless Healthcare Collaborative is one more step on that journey toward greater health equity for all in our community.
Johnese Spisso, MPA
President, UCLA Health
CEO, UCLA Hospital System
Associate Vice Chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences