Purpose: Psychiatric conditions require aggressive management that is challenging to provide in free clinics. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of certain mental illnesses and comorbid conditions among the patients of a student-managed free clinic for the homeless.
Method: The authors conducted a retrospective analysis of the records of patients who visited the student-run Houston Outreach Medicine, Education, and Social Services (HOMES) Clinic from May 2007 through May 2008. They assessed the prevalence of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia among patients. They compared demographics, health insurance status, comorbid medical conditions, and social habit data of patients with these mental illnesses with those of other clinic patients.
Results: Of 286 patients (74.5% male, mean age 45.8 years), 25 (8.7%) had a diagnosis of schizophrenia and 45 (15.7%) had bipolar disorder. Compared with other clinic patients, patients with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia were less likely to be male (P < .0001) and were more likely to have publicly funded insurance (P = .024). They were also more likely to have certain comorbid conditions, including asthma (P = .0004), seizures (P = .0007), kidney disease (P = .01), and heart disease (P = .02).
Conclusions: The high prevalence of these mental illnesses combined with the increased burden of medical comorbidity among HOMES Clinic patients has implications for student-managed free clinics, which often operate on limited budgets. Strategies for providing care for these patients in this setting include integrated care, street medicine, and case management.