May 14, 2024

Cooley Dickinson Hospital President Meets with Governor to Discuss Housing’s Impact on Public Health

May 14, 2024

Cooley Dickinson Hospital president and chief operating officer Lynnette Watkins met with Governor Maura Healey, and other state and health care leaders, Thursday to discuss the impact of high housing costs on public health.

MA Governor Maura Healey (left) with Cooley Dickinson Hospital president and chief operating officer Lynnette Watkins
MA Governor Maura Healey (left) with Cooley Dickinson Hospital president and chief operating officer Lynnette Watkins.

The meeting pulled in subject matter experts from across the health care industry who shared the challenges hospitals, and other health care facilities, face in finding and retaining workers due to a lack of affordable housing and the impact housing insecurity has on healthcare outcomes and public health.

“We are a rural community that really relies on transportation and aged housing stock. We have about 30% of our houses that are before 1950s, that are old, and they need to be renovated. And in Franklin County, it’s even higher. It’s about 40%,” Watkins told the governor.  “We have to take that into consideration because instability in housing means instability in healthcare, instability in food access, which contributes to all of the things that we take care of in our care facilities and beyond.”

Participants discussed how the high cost of housing and limited availability is impacting the health care workforce with some facing difficulties in hiring and filling important shifts. The lack of affordable housing also presents challenges in recruiting recent college graduates who are moving to other states where housing is less expensive.

Without stable housing, it is very hard to access employment, nutritious food and other critical needs. It’s also exceptionally difficult to stabilize major physical and behavioral health conditions.

“Cooley Dickinson Hospital understands that housing is a key social determinant of health that impacts the communities we serve. Our recent community health needs assessment indicated that more than half of Pioneer Valley residents are housing-burdened, with major disparities by race,” said Watkins. “Through Mass General Brigham’s United Against Racism effort, we are committed to advancing solutions that improve access to affordable housing, working with partners across the commonwealth to advocate for policy solutions. We thank Governor Healey and her team for filing the Affordable Homes Act, which will help us build healthier communities through affordable housing.”

The roundtable was part of the administration’s statewide housing campaign to call attention to the urgent need to lower housing costs throughout Massachusetts, and the ways in which the high cost of housing impacts businesses. Events earlier in the week focused on identifying housing solutions with the business industry, ending veteran homelessness, and the administration’s partnership with cities and towns.

“Massachusetts has the world’s best medical providers, institutions, and researchers. But if we want to continue to recruit and retain the talented workforce that makes this possible, we need to address the high cost of housing in our state,” said Governor Healey. “Access to affordable and stable housing is also a matter of public health and health equity. Our Affordable Homes Act proposes significant investments that would have a positive impact on residents’ health, including rehabbing our public housing stock, expanding supportive housing, and decarbonizing housing in environmental justice communities.”