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'Impact Investment': Kaiser Permanente Commits $200M for Housing

News  |  By John Commins  
   May 21, 2018

The multistate healthcare system has committed upwards of $200 million through its Thriving Communities Fund to tackle housing stability and homelessness in the communities it serves.

Kaiser Permanente is taking the concept of providing care beyond the hospital walls to a new level with its $200 million investment in housing stability in the communities it serves.

Bechara Choucair, MD, Kaiser Permanente's chief community health officer, spoke with HealthLeaders Media about the initiative.

The following is an edited transcript.

HLM: Where will this $200 million go?

Choucair: We are not sure right now what the investments will be. What we know for sure is that they would be in communities where Kaiser Permanente exists. We have about 12.3 million members in communities where 65 million people live. We operate in eight states and the District of Columbia. As part of our community engagement effort we will identify the right opportunities to invest with a particular focus on housing.

HLM: How will it work? How will you know where to invest?

Choucair: Over the past year we've been engaging with many leaders in this space across the country, people who've been engaging in the development and preservation of affordable housing. There are going to be a wide variety of ways we can invest and leverage our dollars. We will likely be aggregating those dollars with other sources of capital that will be available for specific projects.

It's going to be on a case-by-case basis. That is why, as part of the process, we will be working with community-based organizations and partners that have identified the need and specific projects, and those projects will come through a pipeline to be evaluated and vetted for our Thriving Communities Fund.

There is an advisory committee that includes the senior leadership at Kaiser Permanente that will make the recommendations to invest or not invest in these opportunities.

HLM: So, you will be relying upon outside experts to identify your investment opportunities?

Choucair: Absolutely. The secret sauce is to identify the right partners who do this regularly. There are many community development finance institutions and developers who do this on a day-to-day basis as a core business and they aggregate funds from different sources and we will be working with them to ensure that the right investment opportunities are funded and developed and people have the ability to preserve or build additional affordable housing in our communities.

HLM: What is your return on investment in this?

Choucair: Housing stability is a key factor of what impacts health. We know that what impacts health happens in the communities where people live and the medical system has a lot to offer to advance and maintain health. At the same time, the individual behavior, the social factors, the economic factors, the built environments, all of those impact health. So if we can leverage that fund to invest in opportunities that will allow us to improve on housing stability in communities where we exist, that is the type of social returns that we would like to be able to see.

As we are evaluating each opportunity, we will be looking at financial return on investment but most importantly we will be looking at what type of social return we can see.

Keep in mind that the people who benefit from this don’t have to be Kaiser Permanente members. This is a true community investment in our communities. Part of the social return that you would look at would include things such as hospitalization rates, well-being rate of people participating. Healthcare costs. We will be looking at all of those as part of the social return. Again, it will be on a case by case basis.

HLM: When does this start?

Choucair: For the past year we've been spending a lot of time with community leaders across the country identifying those opportunities. We are in the vetting process now for a couple. I can't tell you exactly when but very soon we will be able to have our first investment announced.

HLM: How far along before you'll know if this investment is having the desired effect, and what metrics will you use to make that determination?

Choucair: It will be, again, on a case-by-case basis. Every investment will have a set of financial and social metrics that we will be tracking and we will be able to evaluate on a regular basis if those investments are paying off from a social perspective the same way as we will be able to track from a financial perspective.

HLM: How far can a hospital go to address social issues "beyond hospital walls?"

Choucair: We don’t do these things by ourselves. We are not going to be running housing developments. We will be partnering with the right people who do this as their core business.

What is important to remember is that as we think about how we meet the needs of our communities, we look at their needs that go above and beyond their healthcare needs. At the end of the day, what impacts your health is the community that you live in. It's how you live. It's where you work and play. If we are going to be truly focusing on optimizing the health and well-being of our members and our communities, we have to think about the conditions for health of equity in the communities where these folks live.

John Commins is a content specialist and online news editor for HealthLeaders, a Simplify Compliance brand.

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