M Health Fairview is committed to the health and wellbeing of everyone we serve. As part of that commitment and in partnership with Ramsey County, M Health Fairview Bethesda Hospital is being converted to a homeless shelter that will serve some of the most vulnerable people in the Twin Cities.
How does reducing homelessness connect to M Health Fairview’s healthcare mission? As it turns out, providing stable housing is one of the best ways for us to address one root cause of poor health.
“A lot of people think healthcare means going to the doctor, being admitted to the hospital, taking medicine, or getting treatment,” said M Health Fairview Family Medicine Physician Kelley Jewett, MD, medical director, primary care and family medicine. “But that’s only one small part of our overall health.”
Another key part of health is what Jewett and other experts call the “social determinants of health.” These are factors in our lives that do not seem to be health-related, yet still have a dramatic effect on our health. Examples include:
“We don’t all have the same starting points in life, in terms of privileges, opportunities, or resources. Data shows that those disparities can cause poor health outcomes,” said M Health Fairview’s Chris Beamish, system director of outpatient mental health. “If you’re worried about not having a roof over your head or not having enough to eat, it’s difficult to focus on your health.”
Seen through that lens, homelessness has a clear impact on public health. Providing stable housing for people at risk of homelessness can make our communities healthier. This has become even more important in 2020, as this year’s economic recession pushed nearly 400 people in St. Paul into homelessness. Complicating matters further, the city’s existing shelters must limit their capacity to prevent COVID-19 from spreading. The need has never been greater.
Earlier this year, M Health Fairview leaders visited homeless encampments in St. Paul. What they saw reinforced the decision to convert Bethesda Hospital into a shelter.
“Many people who are experiencing homelessness have untreated mental illness or substance use issues,” Jewett said. “Just giving them an apartment doesn’t do enough to address the underlying issues. Without wraparound services, many people will end up back on the street again.”
As a health system, M Health Fairview is well positioned to offer these wraparound programs – including social services, job counseling, nutrition counseling, medical or substance use treatment, and mental health treatment. Access to these services at Bethesda will increase shelter residents’ chances of maintaining stable housing. Upon that foundation, they can begin to build a healthier future.
“As a large healthcare organization in the region, we have the right platform to address these issues in partnership with our community and government partners,” said Keith Allen, manager of community collaborations for M Health Fairview. “Because 90 percent of health happens in the community, this is where we can make an impact. We don’t have to wait for folks to come to our brick-and-mortar facilities to support their wellbeing.”
“Our goal is not only to treat sickness,” said Fairview Health Services President and CEO James Hereford. “We’re taking a broader view focused in part on addressing the issues and inequalities that make people sick. We’re creating healthcare that makes our community better, for everyone, today and long into the future.”