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Co-ordinated approach with shelters needed to stop repeat ER visits by homeless, expert testifies

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A Canadian expert in inner-city health says you need a co-ordinated approach between medical professionals and shelters to stop repeated emergency room visits by the homeless.

Dr. Jeffrey Turnbull, the chief of staff at The Ottawa Hospital and a founder and medical director of the Inner City Health Project, said today poverty negatively effects health.

Turnbull told an inquest looking into the death of Brian Sinclair that Ottawa's internationally recognized system sends hospital-based care directly into the city's five shelters instead of having the homeless clog ERs.

He said the system costs between $80 to $170 per patient per day - instead of $1,200 to $2,800 per day in hospital - and has better health outcomes.

Turnbull said before the program was set up one homeless person visited the ER 191 times in six months.

"It saves money but our primary driver is care of the patient."

Turnbull said before flying to Winnipeg to testify he had 230 patients in the shelters on Monday - "the size of a modest hospital".

He said with 2.5 per cent of the population in Ottawa using $1-billion in health-care dollars - of which 43 per cent have drug and alcohol addictions - it makes sense to treat them in shelters.

Sinclair, 45, died in Sept. 2008, after waiting 34 hours in the emergency waiting room of the Health Sciences Centre.

Sinclair died of a treatable bladder infection and may have died up to seven hours before being found dead in the room.

The inquest examining his death is expected to finish tomorrow after holding hearings on and off for months since last August.

kevin.Rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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