Shelterforce: Taking Health Into Account

opinion piece

By systematically assessing the health risks of development decisions upfront, health impact assessments can prevent costly and harmful mistakes.

By Aaron Wernham

During my medical residency, I once treated an asthmatic boy. It was his third hospital admission in two months. Despite specialty medical care and cutting-edge treatments, his condition worsened whenever he went home. His mom was worried that their run-down apartment, which had mold and ancient carpeting, was the problem. I remember asking the supervising physician if there was any way to write a prescription for a new apartment.

Similar cases come up in doctors’ offices and emergency rooms around the country every day. In some areas, more than 40 percent of asthma cases can be attributed to housing conditions, such as mold, pests, and carpeting. About 25 percent of American children still have unhealthy blood lead levels, primarily due to lead paint in older houses. And more than 10 million falls, burns, and other in-home injuries result in emergency-room visits every year. The costs are staggering: More than $56 billion is spent to treat asthma and more than $200 billion is spent to treat in-home injuries every year. Families with limited financial means have few options for affordable housing so they may be unable to move, even if they know their current home is making them or their children sick.


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