The Appalachian region, which encompasses of 13 states, stretching from Mississippi to New York, is sadly known for its high poverty rate and for its poor health outcomes: a report released in 2017 found that Appalachia has higher mortality rates than the rest of the nation in seven of the nation’s leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, COPD, injury, stroke, diabetes, and suicide. It also has a higher rates of drug overdose deaths than the nation as a whole.
Invest Appalachia (IA) Fund is looking to do something about this by putting money back into the region, specifically around community health, affordable housing, clean energy, community revitalization, and food and agriculture.
On Thursday, the regional fund announced it raised its first $19 million in capital to invest in these initiatives, more than half of which, $10 million, came from UnitedHealth Group. The other $9 million came from fellow lead investors The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Appalachian Regional Commission, along with Cassiopeia Foundation, Laughing Gull Foundation, and Sugarbush Valley Impact Investments.
IA Fund invests in community development in Appalachian counties in six states: Kentucky, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia, and is designed to complement existing forms of community investment. Therefore, most of its investments are in partnership with place-based lenders or funders, such as CDFIs, loan funds, community foundations, or other community-based investors. Investment recipients include for-profit businesses, non-profits, or social enterprises.
The fund's investments come in the form of a customized flexible and patient loan to projects and enterprises; a loan to intermediaries and participation loans; or a credit enhancement, such as loan guarantees, equity-like grants, technical assistance grants, and targeted coordination grants.
"Invest Appalachia aims to increase investment into communities that have been historically under-resourced. We are committed to a strategy that takes the best of impact investing and makes it work for Appalachia - putting community interest and impact first," the fund states on its website.
"Our vision is bold: regional-scale transformation that accelerates key sectors and increases equity, community wealth, and sustainability. But, we also pay attention to community-level changes like local ownership, quality jobs, community health, and quality of life."
As per its investment in the Fund, UnitedHealth Group will focus on creating affordable housing, along with wraparound services that include health and social needs screenings, expanding access to health care in rural communities, and efforts to reduce food insecurity in Appalachian communities.
“Advancing health equity and addressing social needs like housing and access to health care in rural and underserved areas is an integral part of making the health care system better for everyone,” Andy McMahon, vice president, Community Engagement and Investment at UnitedHealthcare Community & State, a UnitedHealth Group business, said in a statement.
“We are fortunate to work with partners like Invest Appalachia, which really understands the rich culture of Appalachia and is creating new ways to address community needs to improve quality of life and health.”
Insurance companies have been expanding their idea as to what constitutes "health" for a number of years now, with many of them covering the social determinants of health, which include what we eat, how we sleep, our social interactions, even our access to transportation. The social determinants of health are thought to account for 80% of our overall health.
(Image source: ohio.edu)