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Hospitalizations during the COVID-19 pandemic among recently homeless individuals: a retrospective population-based matched cohort study


Background — Hospitalizations fell precipitously among the general population during the COVID-19 pandemic. It remains unclear whether individuals experiencing homelessness experienced similar reductions.

Objective — To examine how overall and cause-specific hospitalizations changed among individuals with a recent history of homelessness (IRHH) and their housed counterparts during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, using corresponding weeks in 2019 as a historical control.

Design — Population-based cohort study conducted in Ontario, Canada, between September 30, 2018, and September 26, 2020.

Participants — In total, 38,617 IRHH, 15,022,368 housed individuals, and 186,858 low-income housed individuals matched on age, sex, rurality, and comorbidity burden.

Main Measures — Primary outcomes included medical-surgical, non-elective (overall and cause-specific), elective surgical, and psychiatric hospital admissions.

Key Results — Average rates of medical-surgical (rate ratio: 3.8, 95% CI: 3.7–3.8), non-elective (10.3, 95% CI: 10.1–10.4), and psychiatric admissions (128.1, 95% CI: 126.1–130.1) between January and September 2020 were substantially higher among IRHH compared to housed individuals. During the peak period (March 17 to June 16, 2020), rates of medical-surgical (0.47, 95% CI: 0.47–0.47), non-elective (0.80, 95% CI: 0.79–0.80), and psychiatric admissions (0.86, 95% CI: 0.84–0.88) were significantly lower among housed individuals relative to equivalent weeks in 2019. No significant changes were observed among IRHH. During the re-opening period (June 17–September 26, 2020), rates of non-elective hospitalizations for liver disease (1.41, 95% CI: 1.23–1.69), kidney disease (1.29, 95% CI: 1.14–1.47), and trauma (1.19, 95% CI: 1.07–1.32) increased substantially among IRHH but not housed individuals. Distinct hospitalization patterns were observed among IRHH even in comparison with more medically and socially vulnerable matched housed individuals.

Conclusions — Persistence in overall hospital admissions and increases in non-elective hospitalizations for liver disease, kidney disease, and trauma indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges for recently homeless individuals. Health systems must better address the needs of this population during public health crises.



Liu M, Richard L, Campitelli MA, Nisenbaum R, Dhalla IA, Wadhera RK, Shariff SZ, Hwang SW. J Gen Intern Med. 2022; 37(8):2016-25. Epub 2022 Apr 8.

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