Homeless People Face a Scary Health Crisis

Slate: One woman's death from cancer suggests ways things can be improved
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 26, 2023 2:40 PM CST
Homeless People Face a Worsening Health Crisis
Stock photo.   (Getty / KatarzynaBialasiewicz)

It's a story pegged around the confluence of some eye-opening stats: The life expectancy of homeless people is roughly 20 years less than others, and the number of people being driven to homelessness is rising in the US, writes Lori Teresa Yearwood at Slate. This might help explain why the number of unhoused people dying has risen dramatically in recent years, according to a Guardian analysis. Yearwood's story explores all this through the plight of Denise Lerma, a homeless woman in Los Angeles who died in 2021 of liver cancer. In Yearwood's view, Lerma's story offers both a textbook example of the health challenges faced by the homeless, along with potential ways things can be improved. A small example of those challenges: Before her cancer diagnosis, Lerma suffered from treatable liver disease.

However, she often missed doctors' appointments because Uber drivers would come to pick her up, realize she was homeless, and pass on by. Because of all those missed visits, clinics then viewed her as "noncompliant," further hindering her chance of getting care. Generally speaking, the story suggests that doctors can do a better job of recognizing when patients are homeless (instead of asking a yes or no on that, they might ask, "Where did you sleep last night?"), of understanding their trauma, and of learning to trust and respect them as patients. “Rather than blaming Denise—saying ‘Patient remains noncompliant,’ for example, you ask the question, ‘How can we support you, Denise?'" says Corinne Feldman, co-founder of USC Street Medicine. Read the full story. (Or check out other longform stories.)

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