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Keisha Wallace, who got help getting an apartment through the Flexible Housing Pool, speaks at an event announcing the program's first private donors, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois. (Photo by Ben Hershey)

Supporting Housing to Improve Health

Keisha Wallace had a run of bad luck that changed her life.

She was already managing a seizure disorder and other chronic conditions. Then she was in an accident that triggered multiple seizures a month.

“With that, a lot of things changed. Things changed drastically,” Wallace said. She lost her job and then her home, and she was constantly in and out of the hospital.

Last year Wallace got a call that would change her life again, connecting her with stable housing through the Chicago and Cook County Flexible Housing Pool.

Housing and health

The Flexible Housing Pool coordinates permanent supportive housing for members of Chicago’s homeless community who frequently need care from emergency rooms and hospitals or who cycle through the criminal justice system.

The program has housed 26 Chicagoans since its implementation in March with financial support from the city and county. One of them was Wallace, who spoke at an Aug. 22 news conference announcing the program’s first private donors.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Illinois announced a $1 million investment, and Advocate Aurora Health is investing $500,000.

“This is not simply about paying rent. This is about making a difference in people’s health — in people’s lives,” Dr. Derek Robinson, chief medical officer of BCBSIL, said at the news conference. “We know that factors outside the scope of health care — such as lack of access to housing, food and transportation — play a major role in a person’s ability to be healthy.”

Statistics show Americans experiencing homelessness have much lower life expectancy than that of the general population, and experts estimate more than 80% of people experiencing homelessness have one or more chronic condition.

“By taking away the obstacle of homelessness, we can empower individuals to better manage their medical conditions and avoid complex problems like kidney failure, heart attack, stroke or blindness,” Dr. Robinson said.

BCBSIL’s investment in the FHP is one of many the insurer is making to improve the lives of people in its communities.

“We are targeting our community investments to make a positive impact on community health and narrow the health disparity,” said Clarita Santos, executive director Community Health Initiatives for BCBSIL. 

Since 2017, BCBSIL has given nearly $450,000 to programs focusing on improving access to housing to improve health.

The new support for the Flexible Housing Pool will help find permanent homes for more people like Wallace — who got keys to her own place earlier this month.

“Regular people have hard days too,” Wallace said. “But mama always did pray one thing. She always prayed that I would have favor. And I must say, I’m glad to have favor with you.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association