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Columbus Children’s Hospital Invests In Affordable Housing To Help Young Patients

A hospital in Columbus, Ohio is investing in affordable housing to help its youngest patients. According to National Public Radio, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, a Columbus hospital located in Southern Orchards, has been investing in neighborhood homes through the Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families (HNHF) initiative to provide more affordable housing.

Nationwide Children’s Hospital first partnered with Columbus officials and community groups such as the United Way and a local Methodist congregation 10 years ago in 2008.

The HNHF initiative began renovating vacant homes for resale, but that’s not all. The initiative also built new affordable housing in the area and even provided finances to homeowners to help fund renovations in their own homes.

The Nationwide Children’s Hospital first had the idea to get into the housing market when faced with a growing body of evidence pointing to the link between health and living in areas of concentrated poverty.

“It’s remarkably frustrating as a physician to see patients over and over and over again from these very high-risk communities,” said Dr. Kelly Kelleher. Kelleher is the director of the Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

“Houses that are falling apart, plumbing problems, mold, rat infestations, violence. You see 25 kids a day, and maybe two-thirds of them are in these desperate straights,” Kelleher said.

Kelleher says the impact these neighborhoods have on kids’ health goes beyond living in homes with lead and mold. Kids are also affected by the stress they experience living in conditions with violence, trauma, racial segregation, and unstable living conditions.

Some researchers are calling this stress the “neighborhood effect.”

“Children are affected by their neighborhood,” said Kelleher. “Kids get trapped inside their apartments, there’s a lot of violence outside, and they watch TV all the time. They overeat. They have asthma.”

The average child in the U.S. spends only four hours a week playing outside. When paired with cheaper but unhealthy eating (Americans eat around one burger a week), this lack of exercise can take a toll on a child’s overall health.

Yet, many parents are unable to provide their children with the healthy living they need. In just the state of New Jersey, some 36% of children live in low-income households. Nationwide, nearly half of all American children live near the poverty line.

Not only is unhealthy food more affordable and accessible to American households, but it’s often unsafe for children to play outside in neighborhoods with high crime rates. What’s more, it’s been found that 41% to 48% of employees who grind it out at work are more likely to be stressed at home, which may make their children stressed inside the house as well.

Kelleher says Nationwide Children’s Hospital is helping to provide children with stable and safe housing and to reduce the crime rates in the neighborhood. By doing so, the hospital hopes to help prevent many of the health conditions children suffer from living in these harmful environments.

The Nationwide Children’s Hospital isn’t the only hospital looking to improve these areas. Healthcare is taking initiative nationwide in cities like New York, Atlanta, Seattle, and Boston to make improvements in affordable housing.

The HNHF initiative has thus far built 58 affordable housing units, 15 new homes, renovated 71 homes, and provided 149 home improvement grants. The initiative has also built a 58-unit housing development with attached office space.

“Hospitals are now required as part of the Affordable Care Act to do a Community Health Needs Assessment, and to try and respond to that,” said Kelleher. The HNHF initiative has cost Southern Orchards over $22 million and Nationwide Children’s Hospital has invested up to $6.6 million. Kelleher believes the investment will pay for itself by reducing the number of hospital visits in the community.

“If we are able to show these improvements [in health] and reduction in utilization,” said Kelleher, “it will be a financial benefit.”

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