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Austin landlords check in on residents' health through new program for low-income families

Landlords at one Austin apartment complex will keep up on residents' health through a program called, "Bringing Health Home."

When was the last time your landlord called in or stepped by to not check on the status of a rent check, but the status of your health? Or the status of your child's health? 

For residents living at the Pathways at Booker T. Washington Terraces in East Austin, their relationship with their landlord is about to change for the better.

According to a recent survey conducted among those living at the Pathways, 76 percent of residents reported one or more chronic diseases in addition to low levels of literacy.  

The Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) oversees 18 properties owned and maintained by the federal housing authority. The largest of those 18, is the Pathways at Booker T. Washington Terraces. The average household income for a Booker T. Washington family is about $12,000 annually.

"They may not have their high school diploma for example and need access to GED classes, ESL classes and assistance with job search and job placement. And so that's why we partner with so many organizations within the community to bring those services to our families," said Sylvia Blanco, executive vice president for HACA. "They have multiple barriers, multiple needs -- one of which is health care -- access to health care. One of the things we learned through a health and wellness survey at Booker T. Washington is close to half of the residents had to go to the ER in the last year, and not many are getting primary care, so that is a huge need for our families."

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Below are the survey results from the HACA 2018 Community Health Needs Assessment in which 504 participants from the Chalmers Courts, Lakeside Apartments and Booker T. Washington residences: 

  • 47 percent visited an emergency room in the past year

  • 76 percent have one or more chronic illness (diabetes, mental health challenges, chronic pain)

  • 12 percent are not medically insured

  • 66 percent prepare meals at home daily

  • 44 percent exercise at least 3 times per week for 30 minutes

  • 80 percent view exercise as important

  • 90 percent desire health navigation support

  • 84 percent desire health group visits

  • 50 percent desire family cooking classes

  • 67 percent want to stay involved with developing health and wellness efforts

In an effort to help address some of these challenges and needs, HACA is partnering with Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin to launch the "Bringing Health Home" program, which will serve more than 200 low-income families and individuals living at Booker T. Washington.

Blanco said they'll be working alongside the residents to learn about all the services the program will incorporate to best fit their needs.

"We don't want to do this to them, we want to do this in partnership with them," said Blanco. "As a housing authority, yes we are landlord, and yes it is important for us to get the rent paid and collected and things of that nature, but we're also a landlord that cares, and we want to have our residents be healthy, happy and prosperous." 

Dr. Freya Spielberg is a family medicine physician and associate professor at Dell Medical School in the Department of Population Health and will be helping to develop the Bringing Health Home program. 

"There's a recognition that good health doesn't come from good health care, you know? You need insurance, you need good health care but actually we know now that 80 percent of good health is actually based on social determinants of health: What happened to you in your life? What's your environment? Do you have access to healthy food and veggies? Can you exercise safely?" said Spielberg. "To impact community health we've got to get out of the clinics, and the housing authority is the perfect partner because this is where people live."

The program is currently in its preliminary stage, but Spielberg explained that multiple residents expressed that, if they were onsite, they would likely use wellness services such as a wellness navigator, group visits, tests and access to certain health products and medication.

Booker T. Washington resident Rosa Maria Ortiz has lived on the property for 12 years. She said she's excited for the program to get up and running, not only for her health, but for that of her 13-year-old daughter. 

"I'm always there for her. No matter if I'm dying, she's in front of me," said Ortiz. "I love this community, we respect each other, that's the most important thing." 

Through a two-year $315,000 grant from the St. David's Foundation and an investment from Dell Medical School, HACA is now looking to hire community health workers to administer door-to-door health assessments, develop and deliver personalized wellness plans to public housing residents and support group health visits and walking groups. 

If you or someone you know may be interested in becoming a community health worker for the "Bringing Health Home" program, click here

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