Key Takeaways

  • MGH recently invested $3.4 million to fund community-based initiatives aimed at tackling the urgent health challenges of housing and access to behavioral health services through community health workers and workforce development

The lack of affordable housing, living wage jobs and mental health services plague many neighborhoods disproportionately ‒ particularly communities of color‒leading to alarming health disparities.

Leslie Aldrich 
Executive Director, Center for Community Health Improvement 
Massachusetts General Hospital 

BOSTON‒Massachusetts General Hospital (Mass General) recently invested $3.4 million to fund community-based initiatives aimed at tackling the urgent health challenges of housing, increased access to behavioral health services through community health workers and workforce development. The total award includes a $1d.1M investment in partnership with LISC Boston to support affordable housing projects in Chelsea, Boston, Revere and Winthrop. This funding was made available by the Massachusetts Determination of Need (DoN) process regulating community investment as hospital capital improvement projects are approved. 

Seven proposals were chosen which feature a wide range of upstream policy and systems change approaches addressing the social determinants of health. Priorities were determined by the community-driven process outlined in the 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment and Implementation Plan

“The lack of affordable housing, living wage jobs and mental health services plague many neighborhoods disproportionately‒particularly communities of color‒leading to alarming health disparities. Failure to address these root causes during COVID-19 could further exacerbate these inequities,” said Leslie Aldrich, executive director of Mass General’s Center for Community Health Improvement. “We are fortunate to work with a Community Advisory Board and Allocation Committee who thoughtfully invested these funds to help make sustainable, long-term improvements to the health of these communities.”   

Affordable Housing

Housing costs, homelessness, and deteriorated home conditions impact community members’ physical health and wellness. Community-based development of affordable housing increases the supply of affordable homes and often provides housing that is safer and healthier for residents, free from exposure to hazards. The Mass General Allocation Committee selected Local Support Initiatives Corporation (LISC) Boston, a community development financial institution, for a $1.1 Million affordable housing investment to seed the Community-Based Predevelopment and Acquisition Fund. Funding aims to ensure affordable housing developers have access to the fast capital they need to compete. Mass General’s housing investment, combined with LISC’s capital, will support community-based developers and in particular, developers of color seeking to create and preserve critical affordable housing in Boston, Chelsea, Revere and Winthrop. LISC is currently exploring initial investments in Chelsea and Boston’s Nubian Square which would seed the creation and conversion of 52 affordable housing units and seven mixed-use/retail spaces. This investment will have a reverberating impact for years to come; loans that developers repay to LISC will be recycled to seed additional community-driven affordable housing in the future.

“Mass General’s commitment to creating and preserving stable housing and fighting displacement will help residents stay in their homes and their communities,” said Karen Kelleher, executive director of LISC Boston. “Every affordable home created or preserved as a result of Mass General’s investment moves the dial on community health and wellness.  This investment is a model for other health care institutions.”

Increasing Access to Behavioral Health Services through Community Health Workers

Community health workers (CHWs), navigators, and recovery coaches with mental health training play a critical role in addressing behavioral health needs of community members who may be reluctant to seek services because of access, stigma or inability to find a culturally or linguistically sensitive provider. Funding aims to increase the pool of community health workers and recovery coaches with specialized mental health and substance use training who represent low-income, immigrant, LGBTQ, seniors, and/or communities of color through coordinated, funded recruitment and training programs. Three organizations were each awarded $375,000 over three years to address this critical need:

Action for Boston Community Development‒Initiating the CHW Behavioral Health Integration Project (CBIP) with 90 CHWs in six cohorts over three years to build capacity to deliver evidence-based mental health interventions to under-served communities. CHW participants, the CBIP team and trainers, health center leadership and behavioral health clinicians will guide adaptation of existing CHW behavioral health curricula and develop and disseminate a technical assistance toolkit to support increased integration of CHWs into behavioral health and primary care teams.

Children’s Services of Roxbury Creating a demonstration project to recruit, train and coach a team of multilingual, multicultural community health workers ("Family Partners") with specialized skills to address mental health and complex trauma of parents of color who are experiencing homelessness or who are at-risk of becoming homeless. Results of the project will be shared with family-serving state systems to expand the use of Family Partners beyond current health insurance limitations requiring a child’s mental health diagnosis.

The Family Van Increasing access for residents of Dorchester, Roxbury and East Boston to mental health services through CHWs who deliver a series of one-on-one sessions with people experiencing mild to moderate depression and anxiety and funds a public education campaign designed to reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Findings will be disseminated to advance the field's understanding and acceptance of CHWs as integral members of the health care team in the delivery of mental health services.

Workforce Development

Jobs and financial security are closely tied to health outcomes, health insurance and other benefits‒as well as housing stability. Funding aims to support workforce development programs for adults, with a focus on resume building, job readiness, skills training, education, ESOL and through the cultivation of relationships with employers, trade and unions. Four organizations were awarded up to $375,000 over three years to impact workforce development in Suffolk County:

Casa Myrna Vasquez, Inc‒Creating a one-year pilot program, with subsequent evaluation and expansion in Years two and three, to connect low-income survivor job seekers to high demand sectors that offer quality career pathways, meeting the needs of both the survivor seeking living wage employment and the employer recruiting and retaining quality candidates. 50 survivors from Boston, Chelsea, Revere, and Winthrop will enroll in the evidence-based, trauma-informed, and survivor-led curriculum that encompasses the three essential components of economic stability: educational achievement, employment readiness and financial literacy.

English for New BostoniansSupporting a solidarity economy in East Boston through design and implementation of English for Co-Op Owners Curriculum, including culturally relevant business management programming, for 70 to 80 residents of East Boston, Chelsea and Revere and six co-ops over three years. The Boston Immigrant Cooperative Alliance, a partnership among ENB, the Center for Cooperative Development and Solidarity and the Mayor's Office for Immigrant Advancement, will also build an ecosystem for economic integration of immigrant businesses/co-ops to encourage anchor institution and City of Boston contracts for co-op goods and services.

Madison Park Development Corporation‒Increasing access to significant economic and employment opportunities within Boston's booming construction industry through enrollment of 350 job-seeking adults over three years into a three-tiered construction workforce development training program. This training model will foster a collaborative ecosystem and contribute to a pipeline of qualified construction industry workers residing in Roxbury and greater Boston with pathways toward continued living-wage career advancement.

Women Encouraging Empowerment, Inc.Creating a continuum of computer and technology skills training available to 300 Revere city residents per year that will build marketable computer skills to enter or re-enter the workforce. WEE will also mobilize the community to advocate for the equitable distribution of income and benefits of Revere's growth through an economic linkage policy promoting living wage jobs, monitoring local business contracting requirements, and translating Revere's licensing, permitting and informational materials into multiple languages.

“Mass General Hospital is committed to health in its broadest sense. That means getting involved in all things that contribute to or have an effect on health, including social and economic factors like housing, food, employment, violence and racism,” said Peter L. Slavin, MD, Mass General president. “We are proud to support these community-based organizationstargeting urgent priorities of housing, behavioral health and workforce developmentas we work toward narrowing the alarming health disparities in our communities.”

About Mass General Center for Community Health Improvement: Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Community Health Improvement (CCHI) brings together people and resources to address challenging health problems and foster sustainable improvement. Focusing on the social determinants of health, CCHI seeks to eliminate health inequities based on socioeconomic status, race and ethnicity, leveraging prevention, early intervention and treatment approaches that are measurable and have proven impact. Mass General CCHI Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube