An Anchor Institution’s Big and Bold Investment

Duluth’s Essentia Health is completing construction of a nearly $1B downtown hospital and campus transformation, in the Central Hillside neighborhood.
This investment will broaden healthcare access and represents an incredible commitment to Duluth and surrounding communities.

Essentia is expanding its role as a committed community anchor institution. Their recently completed land use study is a starting point for community engagement and leveraging investments to build a healthier community.

Anchor Institutions

An Anchor Institution Strategy is a broad term for activities that a place-based institution, like Essentia Health, pursues using their large economic presence to advance the health, wellbeing and strength of their surrounding community. Anchor strategies are not limited to healthcare institutions, though an increasing number of healthcare providers are looking at their role in the community. These organizations invest to advance social determinants of health outcomes. This leads to healthier communities and residents with decreased health disparities and improved health outcomes, while reducing costs to the anchor institution. The Healthcare Anchor Network created this incredible infographic with a model for place-based investing that provides sustainable returns and promotes strong communities.

Persistent Challenges

Currently the Central Hillside neighborhood is the poorest community in Duluth and residents have the shortest life expectancy of any other zip code in the city. There is a 10-year difference in life expectancy between this neighborhood and the adjacent zip code. This indicates how health inequity persists based on where a person lives.

Essentia Health has had a mixed relationship with the Central Hillside neighborhood. Relatedly, many large institutions housed within poorer communities have complex engagement. Over a few decades, the hospital campus grew with expanded services, increased employees, and a larger footprint. The need for parking for Essentia Health employees, the largest in Duluth, required the purchase of land and creation of multiple surface parking lots in the neighborhood. This has been a point of contention for many years.

Community Engagement and Opportunity

Now, however, the land use study provides an opportunity to engage the community fully and develop a shared vision which addresses and prioritizes a mutually beneficial agenda. Essentia will share updated plans for the campus this fall, listen to and gather community feedback, and collect ideas for the neighborhood’s long-term development.

The results of a Healthy Hillside survey indicate that social determinants of health are universally important focus areas. The top result surveyed for desired changes was more quality affordable housing. Other top results included less crime, better support systems, more resources for the unhoused, and better roads with pedestrian and biking infrastructure.

Investing in a shared future

Essentia is already investing in food security projects, community food shelf supports, and food markets that bring Native American and other locally grown produce to the community. Essentia is currently partnering on three affordable housing developments; Brewery Creek as a grant maker providing $1.2M over 3-years; $750K in low-cost capital to restore a separate blighted building; and Brea View a development in the planning stage which will provide affordable housing for senior citizens and ground floor affordable childcare for employees and community residents.

A Growing Trend – Health Equity & Place-Based Investment

Anchor Institution strategies look at the powerful economic assets and opportunities which healthcare institutions have in their purchasing, hiring, and place-based investments, to advance up-stream solutions to community health. These pursuits fulfill healthcare missions by advancing community health through economic development projects, like affordable housing, which address social determinants of health. Essentia has been more directly pursing these strategies since 2017 with its Community Health Needs Assessment work. Greater Minnesota Housing Fund’s (GMHF’s) Housing & Health Equity Initiative is seeking out stories across the state and looking for ways to help advance housing and health equity pursuits in your backyard. Please Submit a Story or contact Eric Muschler Directly to discuss ways we might be able to work toward common goals.

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