Voices of homeless alcoholics who frequent bellevue hospital: A qualitative study

Ryan P. McCormack, Lily F. Hoffman, Michael Norman, Lewis R. Goldfrank, Elizabeth M. Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Study objective We describe the evolution, environment, and psychosocial context of alcoholism from the perspective of chronically homeless, alcohol-dependent, frequent emergency department (ED) attendees. We use their words to explore how homelessness, health care, and other influences have contributed to the cause, progression, and management of their alcoholism. Methods We conducted detailed, semistructured, qualitative interviews, using a phenomenological approach with 20 chronically homeless, alcohol-dependent participants who had greater than 4 annual ED visits for 2 consecutive years at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. We used an administrative database and purposive sampling to obtain typical and atypical cases with diverse backgrounds. Interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. We triangulated interviews, field notes, and medical records. We used ATLAS.ti to code and determine themes, which we reviewed for agreement. We bracketed for researcher bias and maintained an audit trail. Results Interviews lasted an average of 50 minutes and yielded 800 pages of transcript. Fifty codes emerged, which were clustered into 4 broad themes: alcoholism, homelessness, health care, and the future. The participants' perspectives support a multifactorial process for the evolution of their alcoholism and its bidirectional reinforcing relationship with homelessness. Their self-efficacy and motivation for treatment is eroded by their progressive sense of hopelessness, which provides context for behaviors that reinforce stigma. Conclusion Our study exposes concepts for further exploration in regard to the difficulty in engaging individuals who are incapable of envisioning a future. We hypothesize that a multidisciplinary harm reduction approach that integrates health and social services is achievable and would address their needs more effectively.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)178-186.e6
JournalAnnals of Emergency Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine


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