« June 2019 Issue

Building a Bridge Between a Health System and a Community Redevelopment Organization

Building a Bridge Between a Health System and a Community Redevelopment Organization

By: Bruce Gore, Editorial and Content Manager, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, Community Catalyst


Increasingly, health care organizations – hospitals, health systems, health plans, Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) – understand that factors such as income, food, housing and air quality are critically important to the health of the communities they serve. These factors are often collectively referred to as social determinants of health. However, because these organizations don’t typically have the skill set needed to address these factors, they are looking to collaborate with community-based organizations that have a different focus, connections and skills from their own. The Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation’s consulting practice is doing some exciting work to help make the connections needed to create new collaborative approaches to addressing social determinants of health. With Community Catalyst’s expertise in the intricacies of health care policy and programs, the Center’s consulting staff are ideally positioned to identify what might be new opportunities between parties who are unaware of each other’s interests and capacities.

Mark Rukavina, business development manager for the Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, explains, “A key part of the Center’s consulting practice is helping hospitals and health plans, for example, to bolster their efforts in building strong relationships with community organizations and consumer groups as they work to address social determinants.”

A prime recent example is the Center’s work with the Housing Partnership Network (HPN), a national association of affordable housing and community development non-profit organizations.

Rukavina explains that, “HPN was interested in helping their members who had either initiated some relationship with health entities to improve serving their communities, or wanted to begin on that path. To help establish and strengthen new collaborations with health systems, we worked closely with four of their members, helping them to understand the unique strengths they could bring to these collaborations.”

The HPN member organizations were owner/operators of affordable housing units, serving low- and moderate-income populations – often the very populations living in neighborhoods where health systems and plans were hoping to implement interventions to address the needs of these communities.

“Who better to partner with than with a non-profit organization that has multiple units and/or funds the development of new affordable housing stock?” Rukavina explained.

Renée Markus Hodin, deputy director of the Center, points out an initial challenge the consulting team discovered early in this project: a linguistic divide. “Housing organizations speak their own technical language, quite different from that of health care organizations. We saw a clear opportunity to be of service helping bridge these divides to spur new and tangible collaborative initiatives.”

A successful example of this was HPN member Cinnaire, a Community Development Financial Institution that works in nine states, including Delaware. Cinnaire supports the development of vibrant neighborhoods by focusing on social determinants of health, community stabilization and economic development. The Center consulting team worked with Cinnaire in Wilmington, which has, for years, had an urban core that that has suffered from extreme neglect, unfortunately not atypical for many urban areas. When a new mayor was elected in 2017, he set up a land bank to help redevelop up to 1,500 vacant properties across the city. Cinnaire was interested in establishing a revolving loan fund, the Wilmington Healthy Neighborhood Initiative (HNI) that would support the redevelopment of properties from the Wilmington Neighborhood Conservancy Land Bank and promote affordable homeownership. HNI would also identify and support other components of healthy neighborhoods such as improved community facilities, healthy food options and linkages to social services.

The Center’s consulting staff assisted Cinnaire in making a case to the health entities in the area that they would be an ideal partner in making life better in their communities, helping connect them to a health system that operates a hospital in Wilmington. The local hospital staff understood, because of the Community Health Needs Assessment they had done, that there were health issues due to the existing conditions in the neighborhood that went far beyond what could be addressed by the health or medical services system alone. With key support from the local hospital, the parent health system approved a $1 million dollar loan for the HNI.

Susan Frank, executive vice president of business development at Cinnaire, shared her perspective on the project.

“The Center was instrumental throughout the process of making the Fund a reality,” she said. “The team analyzed and identified best practices to address the social determinants of health and facilitated key relationships for us with health care systems. They also helped shape our message to speak in a common and compelling language to meet the specific needs of health care organizations. The Center’s expert consultation, along with the collaboration with the Housing Partnership Network, made the Fund a reality by helping us raise the first funds that provided the momentum for us to leverage funding from other contributors and lenders.”

Rukavina sums up, “This project reflects the reality for many community-based development and services organizations providing non-medical services: figuring out how to connect to hospitals and health systems is often a complete mystery. The value we are excited about adding is using our knowledge of, and extensive network of ties to, health care organizations, to break down the silos and find common cause.”

This project is just one example of how the Center's consulting practice is transforming the ways in which community health programs are being designed and implemented. With societal awareness of the vital importance of social determinants in overall health gaining more traction daily, the moment could not be better for the Center to be making its unique consulting contributions to help effect real change.

O N   T H E   W I R E

News and Publications

Center Business Development Manager Mark Rukavina was quoted in a Philadelphia Inquirer article explaining the burden consumers face when challenging medical debt collections.

Lois Uttley, director of the Women’s Health Program, described the potential challenges that secular and Catholic hospital partnerships pose to women and LGBTQ+ individuals’ access to health care in a Kaiser Health News article.

Center Director Ann Hwang, MD, was quoted in a Fierce Healthcare article describing obstacles in health care technology innovation at a POLITICO panel in January 2019.

In an article in the American Journal of Managed Care, “Will 2019 Kick Off a New Era in Person-Centered Care?,” Center Director Ann Hwang, MD, and Center Research Director Marc Cohen, PhD, discuss both the implications and limitations of Medicare’s star rating system.

Among our publications this year are an agenda for advancing health justice and our 2019 federal policy priorities. We also issued a report outlining policy solutions for ending surprise medical bills and best practices for white-led health advocacy organizations to promote health equity and racial justice.

The Center announced its second annual Speak Up for Better Health award. Learn more and nominate a health care champion here.

Join us in welcoming:

Avery Brien, state advocacy manager, Program on Substance Use Disorders and on Justice-Involved Populations; Kim Nguyen, state advocacy manager, State Consumer Health Advocacy Program; Maya Nakamura, program associate, State Consumer Health Advocacy Program; and Briana Croteau, office administrator.

We are delighted to share the following promotions:

Marissa Korn to program and advocacy coordinator, State Consumer Health Advocacy Program; Melissa Ough to associate director, Dental Access Project; Sarah Pearce to program coordinator, Dental Access Project, in addition to her work with the Missouri Expanding Coverage through Consumer Assistance Program; Daniel Frost to digital strategy and communications manager; and Madison Tallant to program coordinator, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation

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