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When Innovation Hits Home: Sutter Helps Employees Buy Houses

Analysis  |  By Mandy Roth  
   November 25, 2020

Sutter Health embarks on a nontraditional innovation initiative through a partnership with Landed that helps employees with home down payments in the pricey Bay Area market.

Access to affordable housing is a known contributing factor to social determinants of health. When your health system operates in some of the priciest real estate markets in the nation, how does that impact your workforce?

When Sutter Health, a nonprofit Sacramento, California-based health system, discovered that housing prices and long commutes to some of its 24 hospitals and dozens of clinics were a major source of stress for employees and their families, the organization's innovation arm decided to do something about it. This fall Sutter announced a partnership with Landed, which provides free homebuying education and guidance, and helps individuals make down payments on their homes.

With median home prices in the San Francisco Bay and Silicon Valley areas exceeding well over a million dollars, many employees are unable to live in the communities they serve. The situation also creates difficulties recruiting and retaining qualified candidates. Besides enhancing the wellbeing of employees, according to Sutter, rectifying these dynamics could positively impact Bay Area communities and patients by stabilizing the workforce and enabling providers to develop longer-term relationships with patients.

Spearheaded by Sutter Health Design & Innovation, the initiative is aligned with the organization's mission to "make healthcare more simple, engaging, and human." The problem was identified last year when Innovation employee Vandana Pant, senior director, strategic initiatives, participated in the health system's Leadership Academy and explored the issue as part of her capstone project.

What followed included 100 interviews with employees throughout the organization. "There were compelling stories about how long commutes prevented them from living and working in the communities where they worked and served patients, [along with the] impact on their own health and families," Pant says. Permanent housing closer to work will save hours on the road and give clinicians and staff more time to rest, recuperate, and recharge.

During the interview process, Landed was mentioned as a resource that provides down payment assistance to educators located in markets where housing is unaffordable. Landed has now expanded into the healthcare sector through its relationship with Sutter.

"The home buying journey starts with saving," Alex Lofton, co-founder of Landed, told HealthLeaders. "A lot of people are brilliant in the work that they do, but maybe finance and economics isn't what they focus on. We do a lot of work to help people understand what it takes to be a homeowner and build a path to that, whether it be in a matter of weeks, months, or years. We have a suite of support services to help build financial security, but the down payment program is what people are most interested in hearing about."

According to a news release, Landed's down payment program invests alongside employees to help them reach a 20% down payment, up to $120,000 per household. Landed's funds are offered as an equity investment, in which the organization receives typically 25% of the gain—or absorbs 25% of the loss—of the home value once the arrangement ends through sale or refinancing. There are no loan payments during the interim.

“Now more than ever, we need to uphold essential healthcare workers as they uphold us on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic by making it easier to buy a home in the communities they serve,”  Lofton said.

Pant acknowledges that this initiative is unusual for a health system to pursue. "Health systems are not traditionally in the business of doing things that are not their core areas of expertise," she says. "This is where the influence of Sutter embracing human centered design comes in." Developing a strategic partnership with a company such as Landed enables Sutter to bridge that gap, broaden the spectrum of innovation, and "significantly contribute to the wellbeing of our own people."

The program launched a pilot in October with staff and physicians of the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group, as well as employees of Mills-Peninsula Medical Center. No homes have been bought through the partnership yet, because home buying is not something people do on a whim, says Lofton. Meanwhile, the program has stimulated a lot of interest.  

[Editor's Note: The first quote from Alex Lofton has been changed to say "finance and economics" rather than "financial economics."

“Health systems are not traditionally in the business of doing things that are not their core areas of expertise.”

Mandy Roth is the innovations editor at HealthLeaders.


Long commutes and unaffordable housing contribute to workforce stress and inhibit recruitment and retention efforts.

Sutter's partnership with Landed provides assistance with down payments.

The initiative is designed to enhance employees' wellbeing, stabilize the workforce, and enable workers to live in the communities they serve.

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