HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson called for greater collaboration between government agencies to improve social factors that affect community health.
At an event held by the not-for-profit think tank Bipartisan Policy Center, the Housing and Urban Development Department secretary said addressing affordable housing issues provided the "perfect nexus" where his department could work with HHS and other agencies to avoid program redundancy and maximize the impact of their limited resources.
"Your home is the foundation of your security," Carson said. "We have to recognize that as a society and begin to think about how do we provide a more holistic, nurturing environment for our people."
Carson has talked with HHS Secretary Alex Azar to find opportunities where they can share more data to better concentrate their resources.
Carson's remarks came as the Bipartisan Policy Center released a new report recommending HUD and HHS coordinate efforts, including sharing more data; integrating housing and behavioral health resources; reducing lead poisoning and asthma with home improvements; and improving coordination of disaster-related housing and health services. Some health systems have worked on such initiatives for decades, including Bon Secours Baltimore Health System. Solutions for housing and other social determinant issues are often found by engaging with community members, according to Dr. Samuel Ross, CEO of Bon Secours Baltimore. Since the mid-1990s the system has engaged in community housing initiatives in partnership with community groups, leading to the development of more than 720 apartments for low- and moderate-income households through its Community Works program.
For HUD's part, the agency launched the "Envision Center" initiative Thursday in 17 communities to provide families receiving HUD assistance with additional support services for health and wellness, education and other social determinants of health.
Ross said health systems should embrace their role as economic anchors within their communities.
"In healthcare, we often contact the individual and our question is, 'What's the matter with you' in a healthcare sense," Ross said. "In this world we ought to flip that question to ask, 'What matters to you.' "