$1.2 million homes: A health crisis

John Taylor: March 10, 20070 Comments

In the otherworldliness of Santa Barbara, where hotels offer masseuses for aching pooches, it is of little matter to many that the area's median home price is $1.2 million.  That price simply means your annual incomes needs to be at least $235,000.

But when the average employee at nonprofit Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital earns $63,000 a year, you might figure, hey, trade down to a condo or an apartment. The problem is median area condo prices, $655k (income required, $129k); and middle-income, two-bedroom condos, $294k ($79k).

So, what the Cottage Hospital CEO described as the land of "the newly wed and the nearly dead," has serious recruitment and retention levels, especially when skilled pros decide to have families.

When regional nonprofit hospital administrators visited Ron Werft's facility on March 8, they heard of a solution that was definitely outside the box for most.  Cottage bought bankrupt St. Francis Hospital and, after years of planning, public hearings and serious fiscal imagineering, is transforming the area into affordable housing for staff of real-human means -- 400 of Cottage's 2,500 employees qualify.

You can look up the details on line, but essentially employees buy one of the 115 condos (most priced well-below market rate), agree to limited appreciation and to sell their homes back to the hospital foundation when they leave. So many have applied that a lottery will be held.

The hospital also pays employees $75 a month if they don't park their cars in the hospital parking structure (and street parking is regulated by the locality) -- so, walk, cycle, car pool. 

While these ideas may be a little like "eggs Santa Barbara" -- poached eggs atop crab cakes covered by hollandaise sauce -- too pricey or impractical for most hospitals, they do show that overcoming health care staffing shortages requires serious mental tai chi.