Planting seeds for healthier neighborhoods

Before and after of a revitalized home on Columbus’ south side

After years of increasingly positive outcomes, a Nationwide Children’s Hospital community health program is expanding into Columbus’ historic Linden neighborhood.

Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families (HNHF), an initiative established in 2008 to combat years of disinvestment in the South Side Columbus neighborhood surrounding the hospital, will be expanding to the roughly six-square mile Linden neighborhood, located northeast of downtown. The goal will be to employ the best practices developed by the HNHF program initiative over the last 12 years in a part of the city that has been suffering from similar disinvestment.

“We’ve been in discussions about expanding Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families since 2019,” said Angela Mingo, Nationwide Children’s Hospital’s community relations director. “What makes this project important today is that there is a convergence of issues impacting communities of color, from COVID-19 to systemic racism, which has reinforced that this is the right time for this initiative.”

For more than 25 years, Nationwide Children’s has provided primary and behavioral health care services to children in the Linden community, but the neighborhood faces problems that include elevated infant mortality rates, increasing levels of crime and barriers to health care, employment and transportation. The work of HNHF in the Linden area will supplement and expand upon the vision of the comprehensive One Linden community plan, a revitalization blueprint developed by the City of Columbus and Linden neighborhood community leaders.

Neighborhood renewal

Working with community partners, Nationwide Children’s has been operating the HNHF program on the South Side of Columbus since 2008. The program began as an outgrowth from a 2007 discussion the hospital held with its South Side neighbors as it planned construction of a new in-patient hospital building. As the hospital invested in its campus, Mingo said the opportunity to extend that investment into the broader area became a priority.

Fast forward 12 years, and more than 380 homes have been impacted through Healthy Homes programming, including through home repair programs, the creation of affordable rental housing and increased homeownership. Violent crime in the neighborhood has decreased, average hourly wages in the area have increased from $10.10 to $18.03, and there has been a doubling in African-American employment. Meanwhile, the rate of emergency department visits from the neighborhood have dropped by 21 percent.

“The tangible investment that you can see near the hospital campus has been transformational for the community,” Mingo said. “We’re seeing the transformation of a corridor that had seen incredible levels of disinvestment.”

The hospital has the ability to expand the HNHF program into Linden in 2020 thanks in part to a financial contribution from the Nationwide Foundation. The charitable arm of the Nationwide companies, the foundation announced a $10 million gift to the Nationwide Foundation Pediatric Innovation Fund at Nationwide Children’s Hospital on July 14. A significant portion of the gift is designated to support the expansion of HNHF.

“We recognize the passion and pride the residents of Linden have for their neighborhood, and we think this program will meaningfully improve the lives of community residents and help to reinvigorate one of our city’s historic neighborhoods,” said Nationwide CEO and Nationwide Foundation Chairman Kirt Walker, in announcing the contribution.

With funding from the Nationwide Foundation, the hospital hopes to apply learnings from its work on the South Side of Columbus to the Linden neighborhood. In 2019 alone, the HNHF initiative led to the hospital hiring 200 South Side residents to work at the hospital. The program also completed eight homes for home ownership, 20 units of affordable rental housing and provided 12 homeowners with repair grants for exterior improvements. Eventually, those are the kinds of results the HNHF initiative aims to help spur in Linden.

Said Mingo, “It’s our hope that in Linden we can plant seeds for improved health and economic development that go well beyond the Healthy Neighborhoods Healthy Families initiative.”