Optimal health is about more than just the care you get at the doctor’s office or inside a hospital. Without access to health care, nutritious food, clean water and air, or safe, reliable housing, good health is nearly unattainable.
In Southern California’s San Bernardino County, the community health team at St. Bernardine Medical Center knows that in order to keep their patients healthy, they need to address these social determinants of health. The hospital participated in a national initiative designed to increase investments in the social contributors to poor health, with an emphasis on affordable housing. The need in the community was significant, and growing, according to the hospital’s 2021 community benefit report: The number of homeless persons in San Bernardino County had increased 13.5 percent over the previous year, the majority of whom had no shelter at all.
“We’ve been in the community for nearly 100 years, so we’re here to stay and advocate for the poor and underserved,” said Kathleen McDonnell, director of mission integration. “You can’t have a healthy community without healthy and safe housing.”
Fortunately, McDonnell and her team were able to forge a partnership with National Community Renaissance (CORE), a nonprofit housing developer that was already in the process of redeveloping a former military barracks-turned-Section 8 housing complex. With funding from several community and government partners, including $1.2 million from Dignity Health’s Community Investment Program, which channels financial resources to organizations that promote the total health and health equity of communities, nearly 200 new housing units were built at Crestview Terrace in San Bernardino. The majority of the units qualify as affordable housing, but several market-rate units were included in the project as well, for those community members who need housing but do not meet income requirements for affordable housing.
“We know that people with unmet housing needs are more socio-economically disadvantaged, experience poor health, and are more likely to have serious chronic illnesses,” said Doug Kleam, president of St. Bernardine Medical Center, at the ribbon cutting ceremony in January 2022. “Quality, affordable housing can reduce stress as well as chronic and infectious disease, which leads to improvement in both physical and mental health. This project will not only bring much needed high-quality affordable housing, but it will also revitalize the neighborhood and help improve the health and quality of life for families in the surrounding community.”
The hospital’s commitment to supporting affordable housing options for the community didn’t stop there. Through collaboration with local community organizations, financial institutions, and nonprofit housing developers, Dignity Health will continue to address affordable housing needs in San Bernardino well into the future.
In 2021, Dignity Health approved a $1 million line of credit to nonprofit housing organization Neighborhood Partnership Housing Services, Inc., to support the development of 10 single-family homes for low-income families. The project is well underway. These dollars will be matched with an additional $1.5 million from other funders to ensure maximum impact for the community. The average home will feature 3 bedrooms and 2 baths and will be approximately 1,600 square feet in scattered land currently not used in the City of San Bernardino
“We are committed to this community, and if we can help stabilize housing, everyone will be healthier,” McDonnell said.