Health is more than healthcare…
Recently, an in-depth assessment of the health and health resources of Grand County residents (completed in 2019) painted an interesting picture of key health factors. One of the top factors cited as affecting the health of our residents, is lack of affordable housing. How housing affects a person’s health is a reasonable question. This article attempts to explain the connection.
We know that in Colorado the price of housing has become unaffordable for many households. The average Colorado home price increased 77 percent in the past decade, but the state’s average income went up just 4.5%. Add to that the impact of short-term rentals in the housing market of a resort town, which increases the cost of housing for all, and the shortage of affordable housing becomes severe. People who struggle to afford a place to live often prioritize housing over healthcare. To keep a roof over their head they may not visit the doctor when ill, avoid purchasing medication, or even go without medical insurance to save money.
In Grand County, many families are one medical condition away from disaster. And the reasons for that are not what you might think. Let’s consider the fate of a fictitious Lisa and her family with a focus on affordable housing.
Lisa is a 45 year old mother of 2 teens who was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the tremendous shock that Lisa felt with this diagnosis, she was helped by her primary care doctor to find the Grand County services available to her. She received help from local nonprofits and groups that provided aid in navigating the system as well as obtaining financial aid. She was sent to Denver for her cancer treatment program.
Lisa is a high school teacher and is insured through her employer. Her insurance covered her doctor appointments and chemotherapy, but did not cover transportation to appointments in Denver, large co-pays and out-of-pocket deductibles and her time missed at work due to several months of treatment. That worried Lisa and her family. Her husband Brad is a self-employed contractor who loses income if he takes Lisa to Denver for chemotherapy. He wants desperately to help out, but worries about their income if he takes too many days off. Their teenagers are 11 and 14, not old enough to help with driving. They do, however stay home with Lisa when she is sick so that Brad can continue to work. They have missed too much school this year to keep their grades up and continuing with track and cross-country ski events after school is impossible.
Lisa and her husband live in rental housing. They were lucky to find a good house to rent years ago, but now their landlord has given them one month’s notice. Their rental house will become an investment for the landlord, who plans to do all short term rentals. Lisa and Brad need to find another house to rent. They find that rents have gone up steeply since they last looked and in addition they need to come up with first and last month’s deposit before moving in. August is just around the corner and they need money for school supplies for their teens. They make just enough money so that they don’t qualify for reduced lunch or free back packs full of school supplies.
They feel humbled to ask for “handouts”. Lisa and Brad ask themselves how this could be that they have worked so hard in professional jobs and still are failing to qualify for decent housing in the County that they love. Lisa needs to concentrate on healing, not be stressed out by the need to move in with family or friends, or leave the county that they love, their friends, and the school that their teens love. They could max out all of their credit cards and use the debt to finance a move to a rental house if they could even qualify. Lisa and Brad choose to try this option, knowing that they will be in debt way above their means. Maybe their friends or family will do a fund raiser that might help pay a little of their way.
Lisa’s situation is not hypothetical. This scenario plays out in Grand County every day. A more fair and viable solution is to better manage the issue of affordable housing in Grand County.
The good news is that solutions for affordable housing are gaining momentum. The Public Health Improvement Plan put forth by the Grand County Public Health Department and other collaborators includes a strategy for supporting new and existing county-wide housing initiatives.
For more information on the PHIP go to https://www.co.grand.co.us/220/PublicHealth.
This article was contributed by:
Resident of Tabernash
Currently retired from 40 years working as a provider in the healthcare field in Denver.
Resident of Granby
Retired from a career of health education and behavior change consulting.