Bronx hospital invests in low-income housing to improve public health

Bronx County in New York is one of the least healthy in the country, and SBH Health System knew it was time to address its community's needs. One way it is improving public health: working with a developer to build housing for low-income patients. The new development on the SBH campus will include an urgent care center and other outpatient care options to reduce hospital admissions.

The health system, based in New York City’s Bronx borough, sold part of its campus to a developer that will build 314 homes for low-income residents, according to an article from Hospitals & Health Networks. More than 80% of the organization's patient population are Medicaid enrollees or are uninsured. SBH purchased nearly a city block over the course of several years, and the development deal will ensure that housing is low-cost and that needed health and wellness services are provided on-site.

“Whatever has been done in the past has not been working, and we really have to think very differently,” the system’s CEO, David Perlstein, M.D., told the publication.

Offering housing options to the homeless can have positive results for a hospital’s bottom line, as treating such patients is often costly. Homeless patients are often emergency room “super-users,” contributing to overcrowding and long wait times in the ER, and are frequently hospitalized for chronic conditions. Homeless patients are also likely to be readmitted for additional treatment.

Hospitals are still working to figure out the perfect algorithm to tackle homelessness and housing insecurity, according to H&HN, but health policy experts say that modest investment in housing options, expanding support services, and better care coordination that may include outside organizations and services are all possible strategies.

The social determinants of health, like housing, can have significant impacts on patients’ ability to manage their health and access needed care. Providers like Partners Healthcare, for example, are doing more to screen patients who may be at risk for housing insecurity or who have other unmet social needs, and some hospitals are tackling economic concerns by buying locally and investing in the communities they serve.