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Hospitals Reaching Out to Their Neighbors Through Development

A hospital in Columbus, Ohio, seeks to improve the lives of area residents by investing in the surrounding neighborhood.
September 27, 2018, 5am PDT | Camille Fink
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Laura Bliss examines the relationships between hospitals and the communities in which they locate, with a focus on Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. The Southern Orchards neighborhood around the hospital had been in decline for many years, and in 2008 Nationwide Children’s began investing in the community, starting with a real estate development initiative, reports Bliss:

Over the past nine years, Nationwide Children’s put $6 million into this combined effort, joining the city and other donors to [the] Healthy Neighborhoods, Healthy Families [initiative]; all told, what began as holding up its end of a tax deal became a nearly $23 million investment in 272 single-family homes and dozens of rental units around the South Side.

Bliss points out that Nationwide Children’s had incentives for investing in Southern Orchards. For one, an improved neighborhood is an employee benefit. In addition, improving the quality of life and health of area residents helps the hospital. Since it is reimbursed for each Medicaid and Medicare patient, rather than for services provided, healthier patients mean lower medical costs for the hospital.

However, the actual effects and outcomes of these investments remain somewhat unclear, reports Bliss. One of Nationwide Children’s next goals is getting a better sense of how improvements in the neighborhood have affected the health of children. “Over the next three years, the hospital will try to assess this by a number of metrics, including readmission rates, the number of emergency room visits, inpatient days, and the particular health issues kids from the neighborhood are bringing in,” says Bliss.

Bliss also says that development investments by Nationwide Children’s and hospitals in other cities have seen their fair share of controversies. In some places, projects have moved too slowly or the promised community benefits never materialized. Concerns about gentrification and displacement have also challenged development efforts. Advocates and researchers say measuring displacement of residents, developing strategies to prevent it, and figuring out ways to reconnect with displaced people should be goals at the forefront of future investment activities. 

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Published on Friday, September 21, 2018 in CityLab
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