Woman packing a box

Here’s a big number for you to consider 17,565. According to the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless this is estimated number of people within the state of Massachusetts that experienced homelessness during 2017. At Boston Medical Center, about 25 percent of patients admitted to the hospital are homeless. Here is another number for you to take into consideration $6.5 million. This is the amount that BMC is investing over the next five years to help combat the housing crisis in the city of Boston.

No, BMC isn’t building its own housing units or serving as a landlord; instead the hospital is investing in a diverse group of community partnerships in neighborhoods where many of our patients already live. The hope is that this will give them and other residents’ access to a larger pool of stable, affordable housing. Examples of this include:

  • $1 million for a no-interest loan and a $400,000 operating subsidy to support a new, Good Food Markets in a new housing development in Roxbury. The market’s lease will subsidize affordable rental housing in the Dudley Square development.
  • $1 million for a stabilization fund that will provide grants to community-based organizations to help families avoid eviction in and around Boston.
  • $1 million to the Pine Street Inn, the Boston Health Care for the Homeless Program and other community partners to create a housing stabilization program for individuals with complex medical problems, including substance use disorder.

Megan Sandel, MD, a BMC pediatrician who has studied housing insecurity for decades, after seeing children come to her office with illnesses or conditions that could be improved with stable, safe housing. Sandel recently co-authored a JAMA Viewpoint on housing insecurity, highlighting the body of research supporting investments in housing by hospitals and health systems.

“The return on investment for projects like these is two-fold,” said Sandel, who is also a principal investigator at Children’s HealthWatch and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine. “There is a direct health benefit, but that in turn creates significant savings in health care spending. Most importantly, we are building healthy communities, where families can thrive financially and physically.”

Studies have found that there are a number of health problems tied to housing insecurities including asthma, lead exposure and depression. It’s an expensive problem for health care systems to have, especially when you consider that patients living in poverty in the United States are often the most costly to treat due in part to their lack of stable housing.

“By studying the best ways to provide housing supports, as well as working with community partners, we are putting the whole patient first, and in many cases addressing the root causes of chronic disease and illness,” said Thea James, MD, Associate Chief Medical Officer and Vice President of Mission at BMC. “Health care leaders across the nation will be watching the results of our investments very closely, as they consider the best ways to help patients and communities lead healthy and fulfilling lives.”

Nationally, five percent of hospital users are responsible for half of health care costs in the U.S. This disparity is extremely discouraging but there is hope, a growing number of health care systems are investing in affordable housing or providing housing vouchers, including Bon Secours Health System in Baltimore, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers in New Jersey.

BMC’s $6.5 million investment represents the first time that a Massachusetts hospital has put all its required community health investment into one social determinant of health – in this case, housing – to satisfy the requirements of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health for a Determination of Need (DON).

BMC is making a long-term commitment to housing for health, and will reinvest loan repayments, equity fund returns and tax credits from this initiative back into affordable housing.

For More information, please visit bmc.org.