At a virtual community meeting on Wed., Sept. 30, MetroHealth officials provided an update on their campus transformation plan. They announced they’ll break ground in October on the 72-unit Via Sana affordable housing project, they’re completing the exterior of the main hospital, and they’ve taken the first steps towards becoming an official EcoDistrict.
Via Sana – which means “healthy way” in Spanish – is the first of a three-phase plan to create 250 new housing units in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood, which is slated for more than $1 billion in new investment after decades of disinvestment.
“MetroHealth is a healthcare institution, so we are not experts at housing, but we know we have a role to play,” explained Greg Zucca, director of economic and community development for MetroHealth. “Housing plays such a critical role in health, and from a medical perspective, if a patient is moving often enough, it is hard for the doctor to schedule follow up visits or make sure they are coming in and getting the care they need.”
Via Sana, which has been awarded tax credits from the Ohio Housing Finance Agency’s FHAct50 program, is being developed in partnership with the NRP Group. The city recommended that Via Sana receive a $1 million tax credit from the state, and the city has also pledged $1.4 million from its Housing Trust Fund. It will be located at the northeastern edge of the MetroHealth campus, where W. 25th Street meets MetroHealth Way.
In addition to affordable housing for those earning 30-80% of median area income on the upper floors, Via Sana will be home to a 5,000 square foot economic opportunity center which will be used for education, workforce training, digital literacy training and more. MetroHealth has formed a partnership with Tri-C to connect patients, employees and their neighborhood residents to training and educational programs.
“These efforts will help our neighbors of Clark-Fulton prepare for better jobs and healthier lives, with that in mind we are calling this building Via Sana, which means ‘healthy way,’” said Akram Boutros, president and CEO of MetroHealth.
It’s been a long road for the MetroHealth campus transformation project, and although it’s not finished, the institution has made serious strides in that direction. In July, the steel framing of the main hospital tower was completed along with the central utility plant. This utility plant will be responsible for providing energy and support services to the main hospital.
Development on the exterior of the hospital has begun and is scheduled to be completed in 2021, with the hospital accepting their first patient in the fall of 2022. According to Zucca, the pandemic has not slowed down construction. At a time of economic recession when there are fewer job opportunities, the MetroHealth campus transformation has hired 350 workers and plans to increase that number to at least 500 by the end of the project.
Zucca stressed that the new hospital is designed to address the root causes of poor health such as housing, economic insecurity, and food access. “It’s not just about the four walls of the hospital or the doctor’s office or the campus itself, this is really about service to the community and living up to the mission of MetroHealth,” he said. “To serve the health needs of our county and our region, we know that we need to look outside of our facilitates and look at the social determinants of health.”
MetroHealth’s Institute for H.O.P.E. aims to address the social determinants of health by referring patients to social services. “It’s creating an entire network or organizations that can all refer to each other using one platform,” said Brant Silvers, principal for clinical transformation at the Institute for H.O.P.E.
A new hospital is not the only project MetroHealth has been working on. MetroHealth has partnered with Ward 14 Councilwoman Jasmin Santana, the Cleveland Foundation, and Metro West Community Development Corporation to become an officially-recognized EcoDistrict, or a neighborhood that puts social equity, resilience, and climate protection first.
Last year, MetroHealth was recognized at the annual international EcoDistricts conference for their work. They recently announced that they have received certification on their imperative statement. This is the first step out of four to receiving their full EcoDistrict certification.
According to the EcoDistricts website, the remaining steps include forming a collaborative governance, creating an implementation roadmap to guide projects and programs, and measuring impact over time. MetroHealth officials said they will be the first EcoDistrict in the country with a health care institution at the center of the development.
“It’s not just clinical programs versus economic development programs versus community development programs – they are all intertwined,” said Zucca. “The Ecodistrict platform is really a guide for how we can align our programs and initiatives to help create a bigger impact.”
Asha Fairley is a junior at Cleveland State University majoring in English major and an intern with The Land.