Hospitals Say They Want to Address the Social Determinants of Health. Here’s How to Make It Really Happen.

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Collaborations between hospitals and affordable housing providers are on the rise, and for good reason. As leaders in both sectors have long recognized, we each hold important keys to helping our constituents improve their health, but we often struggle to create powerful partnerships because we aren’t sure how best to work together.

Our work at Mercy Housing gives us unique insight into how families, seniors, and people exiting homelessness can achieve better health. We operate affordable communities in hundreds of cities across 20 states, and every day, we work with the nation’s leading experts to master the most effective tools for fostering healthy communities – those experts, of course, being the community members themselves.

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Mercy Housing’s affordable housing communities are enriched with free, onsite services designed to help residents take control of their lives. More than 45,000 residents provide us with constant feedback on the services they need most – and it’s not always what our hospital partners have offered. What really motivates residents to show up to access services are the same things we describe as the “social determinants of health”: quality childcare, nutritious food, financial support, and opportunities to build a sense of belonging.

Too often, these things are seen as falling somewhere in between health care and housing – valued by everyone, but less central to our operations than medical interventions or real estate acquisition. By working in partnership and refocusing hospital and housing collaborations on the social determinants of health, we can ensure that’s not the case.

How can your organization reorient its housing partnerships to help communities become truly healthy?

  • Invest in our services. Affordable housing providers have a unique opportunity to improve residents’ health through targeted onsite services. A recent study by the University of California San Francisco’s Margot Kushel found that housing people who had been chronically homeless and chronically ill—and offering them onsite health services—led to residents remaining housed and visiting emergency rooms less often.  At least 86 percent of the participants in permanent supportive housing remained in their housing for several years and experienced fewer health emergencies compared to just a third of the control group. 
  • Help us house your system’s most frequent users. People suffering from the serious health issues associated with chronic homelessness – including high blood pressure and heart disease – are increasingly dependent on hospital facilities. Supporting the development of permanent supportive housing helps these individuals stabilize and become less dependent on emergency healthcare providers.
  • Become a health care partner. We work with health care organizations throughout the country to provide health services for our residents. Learn how your organization could provide care to those in your community living in affordable housing developments.

Supporting affordable housing and related services is absolutely in line with the missions of most health care organizations. Because when people have their most basic needs met, they are less likely to wind up in the hospital with acute conditions that require frequent high-cost interventions.  It’s simple: addressing the social determinants of health is a strategy that saves both money and lives.

To partner with Mercy Housing and elevate people’s wellbeing through health and housing support, contact us.

Doug Shoemaker
President at Mercy Housing California

Doug Shoemaker is the President of Mercy Housing California, a nonprofit affordable housing developer providing service-enriched housing to help families achieve their goals, seniors age with dignity, and formerly homeless individuals become permanently stable.