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CareSource Invests $5m In Fund To Make Cleveland Homes Lead Safe

Starting in March, Cleveland landlords will have to comply with a new requirement that rental units built before 1978 be inspected for lead hazards and certified as lead-safe.[Jamie Hooper / Shutterstock]
Two workers in protective gear remove lead paint from the outside of a house.

Ohio’s largest Medicaid managed care organization will invest $5 million to help owners protect children from lead hazards at home.

CareSource, the state’s largest Medicaid managed care organization, will invest $5 million to help Cleveland families and property owners protect children from lead hazards in their homes.

The commitment, which the Dayton-based nonprofit called “unprecedented,” recognizes the profound effect that housing has on health, CareSource officials said.

Exposure to the brain-damaging environmental toxin has persisted among young children in Cleveland at rates nearly four times the national average, especially in neighborhoods like Glenville and Clark-Fulton with older housing stocks and a high number of children of color.

The pandemic has exacerbated concerns about lead poisoning as children are spending more time at home and less time in schools and daycares.Children in Cleveland are most often exposed to dust created from deteriorating lead-based paint in their homes and yards. Even at low levels, lead can harm a child’s developing brain and cause lifelong health problems and education and behavior challenges.

“Ensuring the homes of our most vulnerable neighbors are lead safe demonstrates our commitment to creating a culture of health for our members,” Steve Ringel, CareSource Ohio Market President said Tuesday in a joint release with the Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition (LSCC).

The money bolsters the Lead Safe Home Fund to $25 million, or about one-quarter of the way to its five-year fundraising goal of $99.4 million.

In December, working with CHN Housing Partners, the coalition fund started to offer grants, loans and incentives designed to support property owners, particularly landlords who will have to comply with a new requirement that rental units built before 1978 be inspected for lead hazards and certified as lead-safe starting in March. 

The fund also supports the Lead Safe Resource Center, which operates a hotline to answer questions about lead poisoning and connects families and landlords with information and services. The center is also training workers to inspect homes and safely remove lead hazards. 

The coalition estimates that in its first five years, the efforts will reach 90,000 families – half of Cleveland’s households – remediate 25,000 homes and train 1,000 workers.

CareSource’s investment will be included in the pool of money for loans for landlords, with CHN managing the construction process and measuring the results of the effort, which will “show other communities across the nation the type of innovation that is possible when health and housing organizations work together,” Kevin J. Nowak, executive director of CHN said. “When we invest in housing, we can improve health outcomes and equity.”

CareSource covers about 1.2 million Ohioans, according to its website. The nonprofit was reimbursed by the state for $8.5 billion in care in 2020, state records show.

Last year, the insurer announced the CareSource Foundation would invest $50 million to create affordable housing projects in five states where it insures patients, including Ohio.

Tuesday’s announcement marks the first opportunity CareSource has found to address home environmental hazards with a scalable model and systemic response, Amy Riegel, director of housing for CareSource told ideastream in an email.

For years, child advocates have said lead poisoning was a public health crisis with a housing solution. But often, the price tag for making housing safe for children seemed insurmountable.

A commitment from an insurer like CareSouce underscores that “safe housing improves health outcomes,” Mark McDermott, vice president and Ohio market leader at Enterprise Community Partnerssaid.

McDermott, a member of the LSCC steering committee, said the investment was a “commitment to Cleveland’s future as well as an invitation to public and private investors, from all sectors, to join us in this critical effort.”

This story is part of Coping With COVID-19, an ideastream reporting project and local journalism collaborative funded by Third Federal Foundation and University Settlement. The series expands coverage of the local impacts of COVID-19 in Northeast Ohio and investigates how the coronavirus pandemic has highlighted and laid bare the existing inequities that stem from decades of disinvestment in public health, the social safety net, preventive medicine and communities of color.