Housing is health care

June 28, 2018 Timothy Zaricznyj, Ed.D.

My first conversations when meeting other health care professionals have become very predictable and usually go something like this:

“What is it you do for Providence St. Joseph Health, Tim?”

“I work as the director of housing.”

“Oh, is that like assisted living?”

“No, not really. We sponsor, own and operate 16 affordable, supportive housing programs for elderly and disabled residents in Washington, Oregon and California. We currently manage 780 units of housing and support more than 950 residents in total.”

“I’ve never heard of anything like that before. Why would a health care organization do housing?”

It is important to me that my colleagues in health care understand why I think every health care organization should be doing housing. I explain to them all the reasons why Providence St. Joseph Health invests in this valuable and unique interpretation of our health care mission. At Providence St. Joseph Health, we believe health care is a basic human right. We also believe housing is health care. Therefore, safe and affordable housing is to us also a basic human right.

The 20th-century American psychologist Abraham Maslow developed the now-famous Hierarchy of Needs, which contends that fundamental human needs must be met before an individual can focus on higher-order functioning related to belonging and self-actualization. Those fundamental human needs speak to basic safety and security, including nutrition, housing and other conditions of living that we refer to when we talk about social determinants of health. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs leads us to conclude that patients will not be motivated to address chronic health challenges such as diabetes or high blood pressure if they don’t have stable housing or are homeless.  

Supportive housing is more than simply shelter. Our program staff see our residents daily and are often the first to identify physical or behavioral changes. We regularly refer our residents for health care and support services. We coordinate with home care providers and family members. We promote aging in place and independence. We foster home and health. In short, our supportive housing is health care.

Over the course of the next three months I look forward to taking a deeper dive into housing and health. I hope you will join me.  

This blog post is the first in a series about housing and health. Future posts will explore the challenges of chronic homelessness, the relationship between housing, health and Medicaid expenditures, and how seniors are affected by the housing affordability crisis.

About the Author

Timothy Zaricznyj, Ed.D.

Timothy Zaricznyj, Ed.D., is director of housing for Providence St. Joseph Health. He leads 16 affordable housing programs in Washington, Oregon and California. Zaricznyj holds a doctorate in education from the University of San Francisco for which he published the dissertation “Righting Home, A Critical Hermeneutic Study of Home, Homelessness and the Spaces In Between.”

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