Community

Support a safe, healthy community

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Imagine a society that connects housing to health, and a health care system that helps the most vulnerable among us to live in safe, affordable homes. Also imagine health care professionals who assess for risk and prescribe a “housing vaccine” to prevent disease and promote health. As noted in the January 2018 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), steps toward realizing this vision have begun.

In Bellingham we have an opportunity to solidify progress toward this new community health care by supporting the renewal of the Bellingham Home Fund.

Bellingham safety-net health care providers Unity Care NW and Sea Mar Community Health Center wholeheartedly support the renewal of the Home Fund. Also supporting the passage of the Home Fund renewal are the Medicaid insurance companies, Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW), United Healthcare, and Amerigroup.

Why do health care providers and insurance companies support local efforts to increase access to affordable housing?

Because safe, stable housing promotes good health. And because it’s the right thing to do.

A strong majority of voters (57 percent) approved the Bellingham Home Fund in 2012. The proposed 2018 Home Fund (Proposition 5 on the city ballot) will renew the 2012 levy, producing $4 million a year. These dedicated funds are expected to leverage another $30 million in state funds and federal tax credits that will pay for building housing and maintaining support for very low-income seniors, families and people who have experienced homelessness and have disabling chronic health conditions.

Since the Bellingham Home Fund was passed, it has built, preserved and repaired more than 700 homes, focusing on helping those who need it most. One such individual is “John,” a 68-year-old man who was chronically homeless. John frequented the Lighthouse Drop-In Center by day and camped away from the shelter at night. In addition to being treated by a Sea Mar physician for a number of chronic diseases, John was diagnosed as needing a joint replacement. The surgeon, however, was hesitant to proceed with the procedure because John lacked a stable place where he could recover. John was in pain and the physicians were frustrated that they couldn’t provide the care they knew he needed. This is an all too common occurrence for health care providers who want to help, but don’t have all the answers beyond those that are available in their clinics. Frankly, there are holes in the safety net as big as a house.

The happy ending to John’s story is that he was lucky enough to be chosen to live in an apartment building that was recently built with Home Fund support. John had his surgery and is living relatively pain-free in a downtown apartment building that allows independence and encourages community. Life isn’t perfect for John, but he hasn’t been to the emergency department, nor hospitalized, since securing a place to live.

Health care providers and the state Medicaid program understand that it can be less expensive to help house chronically ill people experiencing homelessness than it is to only pay for treatment that may be rendered less effective by a person’s lack of stable housing.

Join with our communities’ safety net health care providers to ensure that John, and others like him, have a better chance at living a healthy life in safe, affordable housing. Vote Yes on Prop 5 to renew the Bellingham Home Fund! 

Desmond Skubi is executive director of Unity Care NW. Ione Adams, M.D., is medical director of Sea Mar Community Health Center.

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