Homeless people with mental health and addiction problems may stretch emergency services at hospitals but a unique approach in Ottawa is now under study by other cities.

Dr. Jeff Turnbull is chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital. He also does house calls for those without homes at a handful of shelters in the city.

"I don't think anyone else has a program that's as comprehensive as this," Turnbull said of the program, called the Targeted Engagement and Diversion Program or TED.

Turnbull was frustrated seeing people who were homeless and addicted regularly picked up by police or paramedics, brought to emergency rooms until they sobered up and then released with no treatment for their underlying problems.

Health Care Transformation Report 20110810

Dr. Jeff Turnbull, chief of staff at the Ottawa Hospital, does house calls at homeless shelters. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

In contrast, the goal of the TED program is to keep the homeless out of hospital by offering comprehensive, long-term care to about 250 patients.

Many of the people come in intoxicated on alcohol. There are opiate overdoses as well, said Meghan Brown, a nurse with the TED program.

When Jamie Schultz overdosed at a shelter, Brown rushed to his side and saved his life. "They had to shoot me twice with it," he said.

The treatment team does everything from provide a splint for a broken arm to arrange for specialists to visit the shelter to give medical care.

The program not only saves lives, but it saves money, too, Turnbull said.

Hospital officials estimate the emergency department has seen two fewer visits per day on average over the past year. One individual came to the emergency department 191 times in six months before the program began, Turnbull said.

Turnbull has advised other cities interested in the program and how it can also divert people from the justice system.

With files from CBC's Kim Brunhuber