Several prominent hospital groups have been urging the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to consider hospital-sponsored housing as a community benefit, AHA News Now has reported. In a letter sent to the IRS' Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division, executives from the American Hospital Association (AHA), the Catholic Health Association (CHA) and the American Association of Medical Colleges (AAMC) said housing supported by hospitals should be considered a benefit to the community.
"Numerous studies and research in the public health area have clearly established that 'housing is healthcare," said the letter, which was authored by high-ranking executives from the three organizations. "It is indisputable that healthcare is no longer being provided only within the four walls of hospital buildings. In addition, viewing healthcare delivery in traditional silos prevents us from addressing health needs in more innovative and effective ways."
A favorable ruling from the IRS would no doubt take pressure off of not-for-profit hospitals to provide more direct medical care as part of its definable community benefits. Advocacy groups such as Community Catalyst support the efforts of hospital lobbies, so long as hospitals can demonstrate a need for housing services in their community, and as long as the housing services do not create a revenue stream or go toward marketing purposes that derive a greater benefit to the hospital than the community.
The AHA, CHA and AAMC also provided a 10-page list of academic studies that connect the availability of housing to improved health outcomes. They include substandard housing leads to exposure to potentially toxic levels of lead allergens such as mold. It can lead to higher rates of asthma, tuberculosis and general psychological distress.
Other studies have suggested that hospitals providing housing in the communities they serve can also reduce the number of homeless patients who visit the emergency room. A more recent development in hospital community benefits, medical-legal partnerships, have been successful in pushing owners of low-income housing to stop harassing tenants not to use their air conditioning systems, driving down rates of asthma attacks among children who live in the housing.