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Charity care cost local hospital $1.7 million in 2008

By By JOLEEN FERRIS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - Is it an emergency room or a shelter?

Local hospitals work to solve the problem of the chronically homeless using emergency departments as their primary source of health care - and even, just for shelter.

It's a problem for many, if not all, local hospitals. Officials at Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare tell us they see the chronically homeless in the ER almost weekly, often for problems that don't merit an ER visit.

When the weather gets bad, some even show up to the ER just for shelter.

This presents many problems - tying up the ER for minor problems that don't require emergency care. Plus, there's the lack of continuity of care with a primary care physician.

Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare is working with the Oneida County Department of mental health to address the problem.

In fact, just the first of this month they began a new, pro-active approach of going to these homeless people at local shelters before they come to the ER.

"Patients will call them first and they will go out and assess them," said Steve Olsen, ER Manager at Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare. "Or somebody will call them and say 'Please come and take a look at this patient' and then, they will make a determination to follow-up or decide you need to go to the emergency department."

The price tag for this care is huge - charity care cost Faxton-St. Luke's Healthcare $1.7 million last year. That's for people who have no means of payment at all.

Bad debt, which is, for example, the balance of a bill that insurance doesn't pay, equals out to a staggering $9 million.

What's this mean for what you pay for healthcare?

More on that tonight on the Live at Five Newshour and NEWSChannel 2 at Six.

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