A View From the Board: Chris Overton

The Intersection of Housing and Health Care

I love Lane County. As the Lane County leader of the largest integrated health care provider in the U.S., Kaiser Permanente, I’m excited to do everything I can to give back to the community where I was born and raised. As part of the mission of Kaiser Permanente we invest in initiatives that improve the overall health of the communities we serve. In short, I’m here to help Lane County residents thrive.

Kaiser Permanente invests a minimum of 3 percent of its annual gross operating revenue in community benefit initiatives. We organize our community benefit strategies around five focus areas: access to care, economic opportunity, chronic disease prevention and treatment, mental health and wellness, and oral health.

I am excited to be a member of the ShelterCare board of directors because I see a clear link between access to affordable housing and a chance of living a healthy life.

As a community, we understand that, for far too many of our residents, it can be a real challenge to find and retain affordable housing. People sleeping outdoors in urban settings being one of the more obvious signs, but there is also a significant population of people who live on the edge of homelessness due to the high cost of housing. Often people with the most compromised health exhibit behavior or have special needs that require a supportive landlord and neighbors, making the goal of stable housing and finding and retaining a job to pay for it even more challenging. People that have stable housing have dramatically improved health compared to those that don’t.

Why? A recent study entitled “Exploring The Intersection Between Housing and Health Care” by Bill Wright, Ph.D., Grace Li, Ph.D., Keri Vartanian, Ph.D., and Maggie Weller M.S., at the Providence Center for Health Outcomes Research and Education provides some answers. 

When Medicaid-covered residents moved into one of the 145 different affordable housing properties included in this study, their health care experiences changed dramatically. Over the following year, they used more primary care, had fewer ED visits, and accumulated lower medical expenditures than in the year before they moved in. Many also reported better access to and better quality of care. The availability of integrated health services to housing residents was a key driver behind lower costs and fewer emergency department visits despite the fact that many residents did not know such services were available. This suggests there may be potential for even greater impact if awareness and use of health services were increased.

We live in a profoundly interconnected world, and we may be moving past the time when any sector can go it alone. In the emerging era of accountable care, health care systems and affordable housing providers may want to mutually consider the potential benefits of stronger cross-sector collaboration.

A few of their key findings include:

  1. Costs to health care systems were lower when people moved into affordable housing
    1. Total Medicaid expenditures went down 12 percent
    2. Declines in expenditures were seen for all housing types
  2. Primary Care visits went up after move in; emergency department visits went down
    1. Outpatient primary care utilization increased 20% in the year after moving in, while ED visits went down 18 percent
  3. Residents reported that access to care and quality of care improved after moving into affordable housing
  4. Integrated health services were a key driver of health outcomes

Activating our community to increase efforts to leverage the connection between housing and health benefits us all. The healthier we are as a community often translates to lower commercial insurance rates for employers and individuals by preventing the higher costs of providing emergency care to people who can’t afford to pay. This isn’t just about doing what many people consider “the right thing”, it also makes good business sense for employers and consumers who purchase health care insurance.

I love Lane County. I love being able to play any part in making this area a better, healthier place to live. I’m excited to work with ShelterCare in making that happen. Let's thrive together!

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