Catholic Health Takes on Elderly Housing: Wellness, Autonomy Focus of Missouri, Pennsylvania Projects

By Jones, Arthur | National Catholic Reporter, September 12, 2003 | Go to article overview

Catholic Health Takes on Elderly Housing: Wellness, Autonomy Focus of Missouri, Pennsylvania Projects


Jones, Arthur, National Catholic Reporter


HEALTH AND HOUSING A THREE-PART SERIES

* Part One: Rural poor make a home in California's grape growing desert.

* Part Two: Catholic hospitals focus resources on housing nearby elderly.

* Part Three: Rural elderly housing and inner city health promotion signal two routes to healthier places to live.

"My Dad is 79 and lives independently. I can't get him to move closer to me," said Mark Tozzio. "He may be sick some day and not able to care for himself, but he is not going to change until he absolutely has to--and that's one of the big challenges we face in health care."

Tozzio, senior vice president for marketing and business development at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Joplin, Mo., mentioned his father to illustrate the problems being tackled by Catholic hospitals' concerned and concerted approach to housing for the elderly. St. John's is currently constructing a 66-unit apartment building on land donated by the hospital.

Tozzio and Emily Amerman tackled the topic of low-income housing for seniors at this summer's Catholic Health Assembly. In South Philadelphia, Emily Amerman is executive director at St. Agnes Medical Center's Living Independently for Eiders (LIFE).

The 115-year-old St. Agnes Medical Center, operated by the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia, is a 153-bed acute care teaching hospital. It is "very much a community hospital," Amerman said. "A third of the employees live in the neighborhood and the CEO was born in it." LIFE, which keeps elders independent in their homes, is about to move into the housing business, too.

Tozzio told NCR: "I've been talking about and working on the interrelationship between health and housing for eight years. And this is not assisted living--it is independent living for lower-income seniors, a HUD grant."

The mason for Catholic hospitals to take aim at housing, he told the Catholic Health Assembly gathering in Orlando in June, is that "we're not just in the sickness business, but in the health and wellness business--to keep people happy yet intervene before they have an acute episode."

That may be the goal, but the reality is hospitals do not necessarily have the expertise to plan, apply for and implement these programs. St. John's relied on Mercy Housing Midwest to create the plans for Mercy Village. Mercy Housing Midwest, founded in 1981 in Omaha, Neb., by the Sisters of Mercy and sponsored by 13 communities of Catholic women religious, develops new housing and rehabilitates existing structures.

In the past two decades Mercy Housing nationwide has loaned more than $96 million to nonprofit developers subsequently leveraged into $800-plus million to finance 10,600 units of affordable housing in 22 states. Its real estate portfolio exceeds $1.3 billion and Mercy has built, a strong reputation as a consultant on nonprofit housing development and in property management.

Funding of $5.4 million for Mercy Village in Joplin came from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

St. John's trustees understood the growing reality facing both Catholic hospitals and the nation, Tozzio said: By 2050 about 22 percent of the U.S. population will be over 65, a high percentage over age 85-plus.

"St. John's already takes care of a disproportionate share of Medicare population patients," said Tozzio, "about 65 percent of our population, compared to about 36 percent for the average hospital in Missouri. Our relationship really is with the elderly population in a rapidly aging region: 25 percent over 65."

The expensive part of the problem is that people "wait until they have a disastrous event," he said. "They come with the heart attack, for repairs, rehab, instead of a more of a preventive approach."

St. John's, a member of the Catholic Health Initiatives network, is a regional medical center complex that covers 22 counties in Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Missouri. …

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