Six Minnesota Health Systems Join Affordable Housing Cohort
Can hospitals play a role in fixing the affordable housing crisis? A half dozen health care organizations are teaming up with the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund to find out.
Last week, the fund announced the first set of participants in a new fellowship program devoted to teasing out connections between health care and housing. A total of 30 employees from six different Minnesota health systems will take part. The group is formally known as the Minnesota Healthcare Learning Cohort.
The effort is part of the fund’s ongoing housing and health equity initiative. Eric Muschler, who’s been serving as director of the initiative since 2021, said the intent is to develop a “shared language” between some of the biggest health systems in the state.
“We’ve seen how housing impacts people,” Muschler told TCB. “It’s one of the most critical social determinants of health.”
The six health care organizations participating in the inaugural round of the program are: Allina Health, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, CentraCare, Children’s Minnesota, Essentia Health, and M Health Fairview.
Muschler thinks the initiative will help advance crucial housing projects throughout Minnesota. As an example, he pointed to Sanford Health’s 2012 decision to donate 15 acres of land for a new veterans home in Bemidji. When health systems participate in projects like that, they can help reduce risk and fast-track the work, Muschler told TCB.
“We’re going to have a pipeline of projects that are health care and housing partnerships,” he said. The broader goal is to get health systems to rethink their investment practices through an affordable housing lens.
Before he became director of the housing and health equity initiative, Muschler was a longtime program officer at the McKnight Foundation. For him, the Covid-19 pandemic only underscored the importance of housing as a fundamental determinant of health. “I thought, if we can’t get that housing is health care right now, we are never going to get it,” he said.
Allison Pence, a fellow in the new program and Allina’s director of community benefit and engagement, said she aims to learn how “to leverage the commitments we have made in health equity, population health, and impact investing.”
The cohort will formally gather just six times throughout 2023. The program is a joint effort by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Minnesota Housing, and the Center for Community Investment. The housing fund plans to share updates from the project throughout the year ahead.
“If people begin to engage in this and there’s momentum, there are some very significant ways we could reach out to any health care institution out there and see how we might be able to support them in addressing affordable housing,” Muschler said.