Unmet need for medical care and safety net accessibility among Birmingham's homeless.

Academic Article


  • Although homeless individuals often experience health problems requiring care, there are limitations to available research concerning the scale of their needs and the accessibility of safety net agencies to meet them. Traditional access-to-care surveys calculate unmet need among all persons queried (rather than persons needing care), making it difficult to calculate what percentage of persons requiring care actually obtain it. Additionally, no research has compared the relative accessibility of safety net programs to homeless persons in need. This cross-sectional, community-based survey assessed the prevalence of unmet need for several specific types of health care and compared the accessibility of agencies in Birmingham, AL. Substantial proportions of respondents reported unmet needs for general medical care (46 %), specialty care (51 %), mental health care (51 %), dental care (62 %), medications (57 %), and care of a child (23 %). The most commonly mentioned sites where care was sought included a federally funded Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) program (59 %), a religious free clinic (31 %), and a public hospital emergency department (51 %). The HCH program was most commonly cited as the location where care, once sought, could not be obtained (15 %), followed by the county hospital primary care clinics (13 %). In this survey, unmet need was common for all types of care queried, including primary care. Key components of the safety net, including a federally funded homeless health care program, had suboptimum accessibility.
  • Published In


  • Adult, Cross-Sectional Studies, Delivery of Health Care, Female, Health Care Surveys, Health Services Accessibility, Health Services Needs and Demand, Homeless Persons, Humans, Male, Needs Assessment, Primary Health Care, United States
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Kertesz SG; McNeil W; Cash JJ; Desmond R; McGwin G; Kelly J; Baggett TP
  • Start Page

  • 33
  • End Page

  • 45
  • Volume

  • 91
  • Issue

  • 1