Frequent ER users targeted for California hospital's program

The mental patient in the midst of another anxiety attack. The homeless diabetic with recurring kidney problems. The drug addict with one in a series of infections.

Specialists in Sutter General Hospital's emergency room in midtown Sacramento patched them up, sent them out the door and were never surprised when they returned, weeks or months later, sometimes dozens of times in a year.

It was a costly cycle, both in human and financial terms. So Sutter found a better way of dealing with "frequent flier" patients.

Working with a nonprofit community clinic called The Effort, the hospital identified dozens of patients who regularly showed up in the ER with routine problems, assigned them case managers and linked them with services including drug treatment, mental health counseling, primary health care and housing.

The groundbreaking program, called T3, is reducing emergency room visits, saving the hospital money and dramatically improving the lives of participants, officials said.

"This program changed everything for me," said Brian McMillan, a former heroin addict. When he was homeless, uninsured and shooting heroin, McMillan, 46, would end up in the hospital five or six times a year for four to 10 days at a time. He also had a long list of misdemeanor criminal offenses tied to his addiction.

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