HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont has announced that his administration has received federal approval to combine Medicaid health coverage with a range of housing services for Connecticut residents struggling with homelessness and chronic health issues.
The CHESS initiative – short for Connecticut Housing Engagement and Support Services – will pool the efforts of state agencies and nonprofit partners to bring coordinated healthcare and housing support to individuals with mental health, substance use and other serious health conditions.
“For the first time, the resources of Connecticut’s nationally-recognized Medicaid program will reinforce our ongoing initiatives in the areas of housing and homelessness prevention,” said Gov. Lamont. “Also known as the HUSKY Health program, Medicaid will add a crucial dimension to our ability to not only stabilize a person’s housing situation, but to really improve the quality of his or her health and life.”
Connecticut Medicaid’s CHESS benefit is one of the first of its kind to receive federal approval, joining Arkansas, California, Minnesota and North Dakota. It will combine the Coordinated Access Network and housing subsidy programs administered by the state Department of Housing; supportive housing programs administered by the state Department of Mental Health and Addition Services, and the Money Follows the Person program administered by the state Department of Social Services, the state agency administering Medicaid).
CHESS is aimed at managing the difficulties that are often part of homelessness, including access to health care and handling chronic health issues, with the overall goal of promoting health and well-being by coordinating targeted healthcare with housing.
“Simply put, we know that housing instability and serious health issues are often related,” said DSS Commissioner Deidre Gifford, who also serves as senior advisor to the governor for health and human services. “The new Medicaid benefit offers a flexible package of services to help people find and maintain housing, and to coordinate medical and behavioral health services, chronic disease management and wellness education.
“With CHESS, our public-private partnership aims to reduce homelessness and unnecessary hospitalizations, while making lasting improvements in the lives of some of our most vulnerable residents. The COVID-19 pandemic has also taught us more about the close relationship between safe, stable housing and health.”
Housing subsidies for CHESS enrollees, administered by the Department of Housing, will be prioritized for applicants who meet the Medicaid program requirements and are subject to separate eligibility requirements.
“We are proud to participate in this collaborative effort,” said Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno. “Our goal is to reduce and end homelessness in Connecticut. The CHESS program contributes additional resources to our homeless service system, allowing it to provide the necessary supportive services to vulnerable residents and to maintain stable housing in our communities.”
“Nonprofit supportive housing providers across Connecticut have a tremendous amount of knowledge and years of experience serving people with complex needs and long histories of housing instability,” said Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services Acting Commissioner Nancy Navarretta. “I’m confident that the evidence-based supportive housing model that will be available to CHESS participants will contribute to our collaborative efforts to make homelessness rare, brief, and one time.”
“The recent federal approval of Connecticut’s innovative CHESS Medicaid benefit will lay the groundwork for deeper engagement with our healthcare system partners in efforts to end homelessness in our state,” said Sonya Jelks, state director for the Corporation for Supportive Housing. “This trailblazing approach, one of the first in the nation, will provide a new and sustainable source of funding for the critical support services that are key to successfully supporting persons who experience chronic homelessness.
“The Corporation for Supportive Housing is proud to have been a partner in developing and designing the CHESS approach and looks forward to continuing to collaborate to build on Connecticut’s success with supportive housing – linking services, including housing provisions and healthcare, to permanent housing solutions.”
With federal approval to use Medicaid funding for CHESS, the Department of Social Services has opened applications at www.CTCHESSDSS.com. Application information is also available by calling 1-888-992-8637 or 2-1-1.
As a new benefit to be evaluated by the UConn Center on Aging, CHESS is currently estimated to serve 150 participants through next fiscal year. The joint state/federal initiative was designed by a collaborative of the Department of Social Services, the Department of Housing, the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Department of Developmental Services, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, the Corporation for Supportive Housing, the Partnership for Strong Communities, and the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness.
CHESS provides supportive housing benefits under Medicaid, coordinated with Medicaid services and non-Medicaid housing subsidies. Medicaid-covered housing engagement and support services include chronic disease management and wellness education, in addition to pre-tenancy supports (help with locating and securing housing); tenancy sustaining supports (help with maintaining successful tenancy); and non-emergency medical transportation. The CHESS staff will help participants apply for housing subsidy vouchers.
“We are especially proud of the strong and enthusiastic partnership that is bringing the CHESS initiative forward,” Commissioner Gifford said. “It’s built on leading-edge work in both state government and the private, nonprofit community as we focus on the so-called social determinants of health. In this case, the focus is on the vital area of housing and how lack of stability there relates to chronic disease and, alternatively, well-being.”
The Connecticut Behavioral Health Partnership, through Beacon Health Options, will provide eligibility assessment and service authorization. Federal support is provided by the Center for Medicaid and CHIP Services, part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.