FUSE: Saving Money, Saving Lives

by Shawn Story, Groundcover Contributor Vendor #42

and Kaitlin Schuler, U-M Student Contributor

Think about the last time you treated a chronic medical condition with medication that required refrigeration or adherence to a precise schedule? What if you needed a device like an air filter or sleep apnea machine, and you had no electricity and no way to maintain a regular schedule? A trip to the emergency room in the throes of something like an asthma attack or diabetic coma is likely.

Now, imagine that trip repeating itself over and over again, in a span of a few months. Imagine getting stuck in “the revolving door of crisis services,” as the Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw County put it. This is reality for many high-risk and low-income adults, but the FUSE program has arrived in Ann Arbor to make this a much less-common occurrence.

FUSE, or Frequent Users System Engagement, aims to combine housing, care management and health services to improve the quality of life for high-risk adults in the community. Users of FUSE are often referred from homeless shelters or emergency rooms that they frequent. Through the program, these people receive the healthcare they need and deserve, along with housing and other care management.

In order to find those who needed FUSE’s help the most, outreach was done at hospitals and with ambulance companies primarily. Shelters, jails, detox facilities, motels, streets and campsites were also part of the outreach effort. Candidates for FUSE aid were homeless or in persistent housing crisis, have a chronic behavioral or physical health condition, have a very low income, and be frequent users of health services.

The Corporation for Supportive Housing funds FUSE, as part of a nationwide effort to assist those people caught in the repetitive and draining cycle of hospitals, rehabilitation, and lack of housing. CSH also funds similar programs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and the state of Connecticut, in hopes that this pilot program will lead to success.

One of our vendors can speak personally to the success of FUSE. Shawn Story has been a Groundcover vendor for years, and he wanted to tell readers about the help FUSE has provided to him. Here is his story, in his own words:

Hi, my name is Shawn Story. I am from Inkster, MI. I’ve been homeless for 12 years, and a Groundcover vendor for 5 years. I was approached by Diana Clifford from the FUSE program about how FUSE was helping out people that go to the emergency room a lot. Being a diabetic on the streets is a hard task and being in an unstable environment, I was always passing out and ending up in the ER. I have not been to the emergency room now that I’m in the housing that FUSE helped me to get.

My outstanding worker Molly Madden has done miracles in my life by getting me housing, bus passes, furniture, and rides to away appointments. For all of the places I looked for help, there has not been anyone that has been able to do what FUSE has done for me. I’m now a better person, and am involved in the community and being a vendor for Groundcover. My future goals are going back to school and getting my license, so the donations I receive from selling Groundcover really do go towards a good cause. FUSE helped give me hope that I could be healthy again.

There are many other stories out there like Shawn’s. While helping high-risk people in the short term, FUSE also aims to reduce long-term healthcare cost for frequent users of hospitals, in terms of insurance, ambulance rides, and actual hospital visits. Their primary goal is for their participants to achieve housing stability, while also managing their health.

FUSE could not achieve their goals without the cooperation of many aspects of society, from hospitals to housing. The Catholic Social Services of Washtenaw has taken the lead with FUSE, in cooperation with hospitals such as the University of Michigan Hospital, St. Joseph Mercy Hospital and Huron Valley Ambulance. Housing partners include Avalon Housing, Ann Arbor Housing Commission, Shelter Association of Washtenaw Co., Washtenaw Prisoner Re-entry, Michigan Ability Partners and Washtenaw Housing Alliance. Integrated health services and evaluation services also play a key role in FUSE goals.

FUSE may be a pilot program, but it has already changed the lives of many in Washtenaw County.