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Hotel to house homeless recovering from medical care - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Hotel to house homeless recovering from medical care

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

There's a push to contain health care costs and open up more bed space at Vermont's largest hospital. WCAX News investigates why a local motel is part of the plan.

People who have warm, safe places to live need less health care, but for the homeless, a minor medical issue can quickly turn dangerous. 

"If you're a diabetic, your insulin has to be refrigerated. If you don't have a refrigerator, you can't take your insulin and so that's a problem that's totally controllable that our homeless population can't manage," said Dr. Stephen Leffler, UVM Medical Center. 

Typically, they end up at UVM Medical Center taking up critical bed space. Most patients would be treated and released, but the hospital doesn't always have that option with this vulnerable population. 

"On any given day, right now, we have between 10 and 20 people who we've managed their health care issue, but they don't have a place to go home to," said Leffler. 

They can't be discharged and keeping them in the hospital is expensive.

"They may be completely homeless or just don't have a safe and adequate home to get well in," said Brenda Torpy, Champlain Housing Trust CEO. 

Now, UVM Medical Center and Champlain Housing Trust are eyeing a Burlington motel on Shelburne Street to solve the dilemma.

"We see the Bel-Aire as the next step in getting those people out of the hospital onto the next phase that will open up inpatient beds. It's much cheaper to recover at the Bel-Aire than an inpatient bed upstairs. We see it as a win on all sides," said Leffler. 

Champlain Housing Trust plans to buy the property in mid-December, transform the motel into eight separate apartments over the winter so tenants could move in by April. The total cost for the purchase and renovations is $1.6 million. It will accommodate up to 12 patients in apartments ranging from studios to four-bedrooms. The patients will recover for an estimated two weeks to six months. They'll have a caseworker and the hospital will pay for all of it. 

"They're tiny homes. They kind of transition well for this," said Torpy. 

Torpy says these old motels are typically already single-level, accessible buildings close to public transportation and social services. Plus, rehabbing them isn't a bad option for the community.

"These were the old-fashioned motels that people vacationed in and some of them are sort of struggling in today's market or people are just ready to sell so we decided to look at many of them," said Tordy. 

The hospital says a similar project in Shelburne slashed $1 million from the price tag of providing medical care to a small group of people experiencing homelessness last year. The Bel-Aire is slated to save another $500,000 to $2 million annually.

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