[Idea Stream]

After competing for a national pot of funding, Cleveland’s nonprofit Environmental Health Watch and MetroHealth System will lead a group that’s getting $250,000 to improve housing and take care of patients in the Stockyards, Clark-Fulton, Brooklyn Center neighborhood.

Anne Hill, MetroHealth’s director of local government relations, says the project is a new way of tackling health problems like asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder and lead poisoning, all of which are reported in high numbers in the neighborhood.

“It’s a unique opportunity for us to try to improve health outcomes from a different angle by dealing with upstream factors of health rather than waiting for the patient to get sick,” Hill says.

In a unique model, being called the BUILD Health Challenge by the national foundations funding the effort, MetroHealth as well as Environmental Health Watch, or EHW, will work with community members to improve homes in the neighborhood. The grant award will go to EHW. MetroHealth plans to match the funds with mostly in-kind services.

The hope is that fixing the homes will keep patients from returning to the hospital over and over with severe asthma and other health concerns, Hill says.

MetroHealth will identify 25 patients. In addition, EHW’s Mandy Metcalf said another 25 of the neighborhood’s homes with known health concerns such as asthma-inducing mold or pest problems as well as lead poisoning could be targeted as part of the project.

“It’s going to combine a targeted healthy home repair program with pilot policies to address deteriorated housing stock as well as an important resident engagement component with an emphasis on engaging the Hispanic community,” Metcalf says.

In addition to removing the lead contamination and asthma-inducing factors such as mold and pests, the project will convene a working group to identify pilot policies that could change code enforcement and the cities rental requirements. That could include encouraging pro-active inspections and making sure that landlords are registering homes with lead contamination – a current citywide registry that is often unknown to many single-family, smaller landlords, Metcalf says.

“If these policies prove successful in the local neighborhood, they could eventually be adopted citywide,” she says.

Brian Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, says the two-year project was very competitive. More than 300 groups applied and 18 cities received a portion of the $8.5 million pot of money that included grants and low-interest loans.

“When you really think about disease today, the question is how do we handle disease when the origins are no longer biological or physiological or even about our own individual choices but more about social and environmental causes?” Castrucci says. “And if where we live is making us unhealthy, then all the health care in the world can’t overcome that. We actually have to go to the source of the problem. And that’s the housing in Cleveland.”

The five national funding foundations include the de Beaumont Foundation, the Advisory Board Company, the Kresege Foundation, the Colorado Health Foundation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. In Cleveland, MetroHealth and EHW will work with the community development corporation as well as Hispanic Alliance.

“If we can work together and ensure that policies are made and adhered to and enforced, then might be able to make a real dent in our health care issue,” Castrucci says.