U.S. hospitals and health systems increasingly are addressing the inextricable link between affordable, good-quality housing and optimal health as a way to promote community well-being. Hospitals’ efforts to address social determinants of health can have a far-reaching positive impact on patients and communities, but measuring the impact of such programs can be complex. Making the value case for hospitals to address housing insecurity and other social determinants of health is crucial for the wider adoption of innovative strategies to improve health equity.
Some, like Bon Secours Hospital’s Housing for Health program in Baltimore, have gone as far as buying, repurposing and developing affordable housing in areas with high concentrations of poverty and are quantifying the impact. A recent Health Affairs report, however, has helped to quantify the social return on investment of the Bon Secours program. Researchers used a “triple bottom-line” model to measure the program’s impact on the local environment, economy and people.
The results showed a return of between $1.30 and $1.92 for every dollar of annual operating expense in 2018. The hospital’s expenses for maintenance, staffing, utilities and other services totaled $5.7 million in 2018, with some expenses offset by rent, the report notes. The initial $107 million investment to buy and renovate the units largely was paid through a range of mechanisms such as low-income, housing tax-credit equity and city loans, the report explains.
Bon Secours Hospital’s program is one of a growing number of affordable housing initiatives undertaken by hospitals in partnership with community stakeholders to improve community health.
A recently released AHA report, “Housing and Health: A Roadmap for the Future,” highlights the work hospitals and health systems are doing in this area and explores how this work has taken on additional importance during COVID-19. Another AHA report, “Making the Case for Hospitals to Invest in Housing,” explores the recent Accelerating Investments for Healthy Community initiative led by the Center for Community Investment and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program, in which Bon Secours Mercy Health is a participant, helps hospitals refine their community investment strategies around affordable housing.