May 20, 2021

A fully subsidized on-site health program has launched at the newly renovated J. Van Story Branch Apartments in Baltimore, Maryland, where more than 350 senior and nonelderly disabled citizens call home. Community leaders and project partners held a dedication for the space on Tuesday, May 18.

As program leaders, MedStar Health and Keswick have orchestrated support in collaboration with Johns Hopkins Medicine, Sheppard Pratt, and University of Maryland School of Nursing to deliver access to care and conduct educational programs, prevention and screening services, and programs that include:

  • mental health conditions and substance use disorders
  • blood pressure and diabetes monitoring
  • healthy eating/nutrition classes
  • HIV screening
  • mobile breast cancer screenings, and colon cancer screening programs
  • smoking cessation
  • influenza and COVID-19 vaccines
  • wellness/fitness (e.g. yoga, Qi Gong, and Tai Chi)

The idea for the JVSB Health and Wellness Suite began more than five years ago when the JVSB Tenants Council and Central Baltimore Partnership (CBP), a non-profit community development organization, recognized the need for on-site health services. They mobilized a partnership of health providers to conceptualize a means for residents to conveniently access many health services.

“Today’s opening speaks to unity,” said Dr. Stuart Bell, Vice President of Medical Affairs at MedStar Good Samaritan and MedStar Union Memorial Hospitals. “Multiple systems coming together to ensure vulnerable members of our community have access to quality healthcare has been an extraordinary effort and one we are all proud of. We are grateful for the support and for the teamwork.”

Maryland Delegates Maggie McIntosh and Sandy Rosenberg, and then State Senator Joan Carter Conway, arranged for the initial funding, along with a contribution from the France-Merrick Foundation, to build the health suite. A task force was organized to plan the health care program that included the building’s owner, Community Housing Partners (CHP), Johns Hopkins Medicine, Keswick, MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, Sheppard Pratt, and University of Maryland School of Nursing. (Learn more about health and housing initiatives at CHP.)

CBP’s early involvement was informed by a survey of 160 residents conducted by Johns Hopkins University Sociology students, led by former JHU faculty member and sociologist Kathryn Edin. This work, conducted in 2015-16, revealed the prevalence of chronic health and mental health challenges and the despair and isolation many tenants felt.

“The health suite program was thoughtfully designed over the course of almost two years in order to help patients navigate the existing health services in the community,’ said Dr. Lucas Carlson, Regional Medical Director of Care Transformation for MedStar Health, Baltimore City.  “That’s something that can be complex at times for anyone, but especially for older adults and disabled populations in under-resourced communities. The issue wasn’t the lack of providers available, there are a number of healthcare providers in the partnership. It was a matter of having the means of getting the patient to the right provider.”

While the JVSB Health and Wellness Suite is not a full-service health clinic, Carlson points out, it does fill a critical health services gap for residents.

“I have been in this building 14 years. I am glad that there is a wellness center because there are a lot of people that need help, and they cannot get the help when they need it. Lots of people who move in, get sick and they pass away. I think the wellness center will be able to help with that,” said Llewelyn Butler, a building resident.

The Health and Wellness Suite is available to all residents of the building and is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Inside the 1,000-square-foot space is an exam room, a meeting room/classroom, staff offices, as well as private telehealth consultation spaces. Nearby in the building, a fitness center for residents includes a stationary bicycle, two ellipticals, and two treadmills with floor space for individual stretching and exercises.

“Keswick Community Health is thrilled to partner with Community Housing Partners, MedStar Health and Central Baltimore Partnership on the J. Van Story Branch Health and Wellness Suite,” said Carmel Roques, President/CEO of Keswick, an innovative healthcare resource with campus and community-based services. “As Keswick Community Health has continued to expand throughout Baltimore, it is partnerships like this that help us further our mission to serve and support older adults in our community so they can remain living in their homes, doing the things they love for as long as possible.”

“The JVSB effort is a timely initiative that is a true testament in how partnerships can advance health and housing innovation,” said Dr. Thomas K. M. Cudjoe, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine’s Division of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology and co-chairman of the Health and Wellness Suite Advisory Committee.

Stephanie Banks, the full-time program coordinator, will be on site to help residents navigate the health system, facilitate virtual and in-person appointments for acute care follow up, and assist residents with software and telehealth connections. While primary care services will not be provided on site, residents will have improved access to primary and longitudinal care, and Banks will assist in coordinating, scheduling, and transporting residents to appointments as well as follow up.

CHP staff at the dedication

CHP Property Management and Resident Services staff at the Health and Wellness Suite dedication

The 20-story, 350-unit apartment community in Baltimore’s Charles North neighborhood recently underwent a $72 million Rental Assistance Demonstration (RAD) conversion over 18 months by CHP. (Learn more about the renovations and watch the virtual ribbon cutting.)

“When we came to J. Van Story Branch Apartments, we were given a remarkable opportunity to connect with a cadre of like-minded community and healthcare partners who also recognize the critical role that safe, affordable housing plays in an individual’s health,” said Angie Roberts-Dobbins, Vice President of Resident Services at CHP. “These partnerships and the resulting health suite will allow us to positively impact the health of our residents even more than we ever could have imagined. CHP has formally committed to prioritizing the health of our residents in our strategic plan, and our work at JVSB is a continuation of our work to align our programs and services to generate positive health outcomes.”

Written by Nicole Atkinson. Photos by Maximilian Franz Photography.