Essentia joins year-long housing and healthcare fellowship

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When discussions begin around affordable housing, it’s often in the context of government. But a Housing and Healthcare Fellowship is getting hospitals involved in the conversation.

Essentia Health is one of them of six health systems on board.

“What we know is that it’s hard to be healthy without a home,” Essentia Community Relations Director Tonya Loken said. “So part of our motivation for engaging in this fellowship really is working toward better health outcomes by focusing on housing as a root cause of health disparity.”

Leaders from the six systems are part of a Learning Cohort led by the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.

“Let’s face it, Minnesota is in a housing crisis. I mean, I’ve been in housing my whole career, and I cannot think of a time when it’s been a top-tier issue as it is right now,” Greater Minnesota Housing Fund Director of Housing & Health Equity Eric Muschler said.

The fellows will meet every other month all year long, studying the relationship between housing and health and trying to come up with solutions.

“Only 20 percent of health is in an office, an emergency room, or a hospital. Eighty percent of health is everyday living,” Muschler said. “So we view housing as the most critical social determinant of health.”

Loken says Essentia is eager to make a difference beyond what they’re doing now.

“Right now, it’s primarily grant-making in that space. So making contributions to establish community partners like One Roof Community Housing,” she said.

Essentia has contributed to three upcoming projects: Brewery Creek Apartments, Brewery Creek Terrace, and a future senior housing complex.

“Really trying to be innovative in our approach to how we support housing as we know that it is a very important piece of the puzzle when it comes to keeping people healthy,” Loken said.

“If we don’t get the connection between housing and health post-pandemic, we’re never going to get it because I think there’s a real guttural sense of these two things are related so strongly and that stability in housing is actually going to be very important in the wellbeing of households overall,” Muschler said.

Leaders from each health system will learn what’s worked for others and bring ideas back to their home communities.

“We recognize that we’re a healthcare facility. We’re not a housing organization,” Loken said. “So we know our role, and we’re just trying to figure out how we really leverage our position to give a little boost to what we know is a huge gap for our communities.”

“We hope that we’ll see a pipeline of projects with direct health care involvement that will actually produce housing in the end,” Muschler said.