Health Systems are Making Policy and Place-Based Investments to Improve Community Health

November 17, 2023

Health Systems are Making Policy and Place-Based Investments to Improve Community Health

By Lauren Talley

Last year, CityHealth began a partnership with the Healthcare Anchor Network (HAN), a national collaboration of more than 70 leading health care systems. Together, they explore how health systems can work with cities to improve community health through policy change and place-based investments. Alongside Multiplier Advisors, a healthcare impact investing consultant, CityHealth piloted a learning cohort with three HAN health systems: Intermountain Health, Boston Medical Center, and Trinity Health.

What unites HAN members is their commitment to the Anchor Mission Vision: Creating equitable change at the community level through place-based investments, policy advocacy, and intentional workforce and purchasing commitments. In many ways, these health systems are implementing institutional policies and programs that intersect with the CityHealth policy package. Members are creating community investments in affordable housing and home ownership. Some systems are employing medical-legal partnerships to help patients meet their health-related legal needs, including eviction prevention measures and remedying unsafe housing conditions. Systems are also implementing their own procurement policies that focus on good nutrition, the environment, local sourcing, and diverse vendors.

At this year’s annual HAN convening in Los Angeles, California, CityHealth Co-Executive Director Catherine Patterson moderated a panel featuring representatives from Trinity Health, Boston Medical Center (BMC), and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI). The panel represented participants from CityHealth’s learning cohort and shed light on the cohort’s lessons, health system’s community investments and policy partnerships, and building trust with communities as healthcare anchors.

As a safety net hospital which treats patients regardless of their insurance status, BMC is thinking critically about what it means to intentionally invest in communities, recognizing that communities already know what they want and need. BMC has long partnered with DSNI, a resident-led community land trust, to collaboratively invest in the Dudley Street neighborhood, while acknowledging that preservation is essential to any community investment. By following the lead of DSNI’s resident-identified priorities, BMC provides targeted, impactful investments that support the true needs and vision of Dudley Street residents.

The Trinity Health St. Joseph Mercy Livingston Hospital in Howell, Michigan. (Image credit: Tony Webster/Flickr)

Trinity Health and its member networks, Mount Carmel Health and Saint Alphonsus Health System, have not only been investing in communities but building out policy work to address local housing needs. Trinity has targeted its place-based investments in high priority neighborhoods with a focus on areas that have been historically disinvested. The system has been an avid place-based investor in supportive housing, combining housing with workforce development and wraparound services.

Alongside the system’s housing investments, Trinity and its affiliates have focused on housing policy at the local and state level. Saint Alphonsus aided advocacy efforts in Idaho which resulted in $15 million in state CARES Act funding going towards rental assistance for at-risk tenants. They also played a part in the passage of the Idaho Fair Warning Act, which requires landlords to give 30 days of notice before raising rent or serving a notice of eviction. In Columbus, Ohio, Mount Carmel has been a driving force behind building a regional health and housing coalition, consisting of Columbus and Franklin County Public Health Departments, all four central Ohio health systems, and several federally qualified health centers. The purpose of the coalition is to fuse resources and collaborate on a singular vision in support of advancing housing policy in Columbus.

Housing in Columbus, Ohio (Image credit: iStock)

As health systems are increasingly addressing health factors outside of the walls of their clinics and hospitals, there is growing momentum to support impactful change at the community level. This approach is an ideal complement to the work that CityHealth leads: providing a health focused, evidence-informed framework for local leaders to use as a benchmark and accountability tool. For example, CityHealth’s housing policies — Affordable Housing Trusts, Legal Support for Renters, and Healthy Rental Housing — are designed to address the three P’s of housing: production, preservation and protection. It is powerful to see health systems working in these same spaces and driving action and aligning resources to policies that we know work.

Lauren Talley is a program assistant with CityHealth.