During the weekend, Governor Gavin Newsom Tweeted about having doctors able to prescribe housing for mental health issues as part of his proposed $695 ‘holistic healthcare program’.
In several Tweets, the Governor pointed out that access to healthcare and homelessness are linked, and that having housing for those with mental and medical problems would be part of treating mental health issues more like medical issues in California.
“Doctors should be able to write prescriptions for housing the same way they do for insulin or antibiotics,” tweeted Governor Newsom on Friday. “We need to start targeting social determinants of health. We need to start treating brain health like we do physical health. What’s more fundamental to a person’s well being than a roof over their head?
10 million Californians—1 in 4—suffer from some type of behavioral health condition. It’s not a narrow issue. It’s not a new issue. Physical health and brain health are inextricably linked. And our healthcare system has been designed to treat only one of those.”
“Let’s be clear,” added Newsom in a final tweet. “Massive failures in our mental health system and disinvestment in our social safety net—exacerbated by widening income inequality and our housing shortage— has led us to where we are today: too many Californians left to live on our streets.”
The Governor’s tweets come less than a week after he devoted a significant amount of time highlighting the homeless crisis and housing crisis in his State of the State address.
What medical professionals think
While it is unclear on how exactly how such a ‘prescribed housing’ measure would work, doctors the California Globe contacted were largely not optimistic if such a measure took place.
“I don’t know what that would do,” said Dr. Caitlyn Green, a general practitioner who treats homeless people every week. “I think the Governor was just trying to make a point on the seriousness of the situation. Or I at least hope so. If we write for them to get housing, what can that do? Would they get preference when affordable housing opens up? Does it for state agencies to house them? Will there be a new type of housing just for people’prescribed’ it? There’s not a lot to go on.”
“If it were to happen today it honestly does nothing. If there was special housing for people we wrote for where they could safely go to get a roof over their head and help, then it may be something. But right now it’s not much better than writing ‘hope’ on my pad.”
Doctors who worked closely with those with mental issues agreed.
“Even under a program this would be tough,” explained Dr. Kevin Cohen, a doctor who has worked in free clinics. “You’d need to have thousands of available units around the state set aside for people like them, or otherwise they’ll be snapped up by others. You’d need an agency to go to, a state agency, who would accept this. And that’s just two of the hurdles.
Newsom is trying to push for comprehensive changes, but it’s going to be hard, if not impossible, to set it all up and work smoothly. There’s a lot of room for system abuse to get housing this way for starters.
I agree we need to start including mental health along with physical health in terms of well-being, but treatments are vastly different. At most prescribing housing cures a symptom. A big symptom I grant, but it doesn’t tackle the problem.”
A third doctor agreed.
“Just because you prescribe something doesn’t mean they’ll take it,” added Dr. Sanjay Kumar. “Could they afford it? Is it under insurance? Is it just given, and if so, who pays for it?”
“People in this state will want to know, and many, especially those who don’t have mental issues who are homeless, will want to know why they can’t get relief as they’re suffering in other distressing ways.”
Governor Newsom has not given any more details to this plan since Friday, nor has he said if he was just giving this as an equivalency to what should be done. New details about his plan are expected in the coming months.
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