Primary care retention, defined as ongoing periodic contact with a consistent primary care provider, is beneficial for people with serious chronic illnesses. This study examined the effect of a Housing First intervention on primary care retention among homeless individuals with mental illness.
Two hundred individuals enrolled in the Toronto site of the At Home Project and randomized to Housing First or Treatment As Usual were studied. Medical records were reviewed to determine if participants were retained in primary care, defined as having at least one visit with the same primary care provider in each of two consecutive six-month periods during the 12 month period preceding and following randomization.
Medical records were obtained for 47 individuals randomized to Housing First and 40 individuals randomized to Treatment As Usual. During the one year period following randomization, the proportion of Housing First and Treatment As Usual participants retained in primary care was not significantly different (38.3% vs. 47.5%, p = 0.39). The change in primary care retention rates from the year preceding randomization to the year following randomization was +10.6% in the Housing First group and -5.0% in the Treatment As Usual group.
Among homeless individuals with mental illness, Housing First did not significantly affect primary care retention over the follow-up period. These findings suggest Housing First interventions may need to place greater emphasis on connecting clients with primary care providers.