In an era where healthcare systems are constantly challenged to provide effective and patient-centered care, it’s crucial to address factors beyond traditional medical treatment. One such factor, often overlooked by health plans, is housing. An intriguing article published in Wired has brought to light how the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) is using “social prescriptions” to tackle factors affecting patients’ health beyond the biological and physical aspects. Similarly, Upside, a leading health plan organization, identifies housing as a significant determinant of its members’ health outcomes and quality of life.
Healthcare is more than just doctors, medications, and hospital stays. It is a complex interplay of various social, economic, and environmental factors that impact overall health and well-being. Among these, housing is one of the most profound yet overlooked elements. Studies have shown that inadequate housing can lead to increased stress, which in turn can exacerbate chronic conditions and impact mental health. Moreover, the aging population faces specific challenges. As they become older and potentially frailer, their living environment significantly impacts their ability to lead an independent, fulfilling life.
Understanding these correlations, Upside has adopted a unique housing-first strategy. This approach emphasizes providing stable and age-friendly housing as the first step towards promoting better health outcomes. The belief is simple: when members are secure in their living situations, they are better equipped to manage their health, engage in preventive care, and maintain their independence.
The benefits of this strategy are many. Primarily, it supports our members in aging safely in their homes for as long as possible. Should their current residence become inadequate, we assist with transitioning to an aging-friendly apartment within our expansive network of 6,000 communities across 42 states.
When independent living becomes unsafe or unmanageable, Upside’s model does not stop there. Instead, we facilitate a smooth transition to an appropriate senior living facility. This allows members to receive the right level of care when they need it, while also ensuring they can maintain their dignity and quality of life.
Just as the UK’s NHS has recognized the power of social prescriptions, Upside acknowledges the importance of a holistic view of health. Providing adequate housing is more than a simple question of shelter; it is a central pillar of comprehensive healthcare that impacts physical health, mental health, and overall well-being.
Upside’s housing-first strategy is a testament to this understanding, echoing the sentiment of Christina Pagel, director of the Clinical Operational Research Unit at University College London, as reported in the Wired article, who emphasizes that “health is not just a biomedical issue.”
By acknowledging the complex interplay of factors influencing health and creating solutions to tackle these issues, we believe Upside’s approach contributes to better, more effective care for our members, improving their health outcomes and overall quality of life.
In the end, recognizing that housing is the biggest problem health plans didn’t know they had, and taking proactive measures to address it, may be one of the most meaningful ways we can advance healthcare in the 21st century.