Using Brownfields to Heal Contaminated Communities

Ronda Kaysen reports on the growing trend in transforming brownfield sites in disadvantaged communities into health centers, "in essence taking a potential source of health problems for a community and turning it into a place for health care."

In recent years, communities in Florida, Colorado, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Oregon and California have seen contaminated properties transformed into desperately needed healthcare facilities, with government tax credits and grants providing the "vital seed money" to make projects feasibile, writes Kaysen. In fact, the practice has become so widespread in Florida that an ad hoc movement led by local government officials, environmental advocates and health center developers, "have toyed with various names for the concept, like Doc in a Box, healthfields and Highway to Healthcare."

As Kaysen notes, "many of the country’s 450,000 contaminated sites, known as brownfields...are disproportionately concentrated in poor communities because contaminated sites are more difficult to redevelop if property values are depressed. Banks are often reluctant to finance construction on a property that might require a costly cleanup."

“It’s a Catch-22,” said Phyllis B. Cater, chief executive of Spectrum Health Services. “The environmental issues are significant and yet there are scarce resources for communities to do the cleanup and remediation that’s required.”

"But if the state or federal government provides the first piece of financing," says Kaysen, "other funders are more likely to fall into step."

And in places like Manchester, N.H., where a 240,000-square-foot ambulatory care facility has replaced a former Tyson meatpacking plant, such facilities can serve as the first phase of a larger redevelopment plan. “When you look at revitalizing a community, these kinds of uses tend to be the first anchors,” said Mathy Stanislaus, an assistant administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Full Story: Health Centers Find Opportunity in Brownfields

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