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Boston Medical Center First in Nation to Offer Renewable Utilities Prescription

The renewable utilities prescription is a part of BMC’s commitment to addressing social determinants of health that impact its low-income population.

Boston Medical Center will be the first in the nation to offer a Clean Power Prescription, a new pilot program designed to address utilities as a social determinant of health while also considering renewable energy and climate change and how they impact health and well-being.

Through the pilot program, clinicians will be able to prescribe a lower energy bill powered through clean energy generated via solar panels on a BMC building, the organization said. This program was designed to address utility affordability, a key social determinant of health.

“For decades Boston Medical Center Health System has been focused on advancing a model of care that looks holistically at the health of our patients and extends beyond traditional medicine to include critical social factors of health such as inadequate housing, food insecurity, barriers to economic mobility and climate change, all of which disproportionally impacts the communities we serve,” Alastair Bell, MD, MBA, President and CEO of BMCHS, stated publicly.

“Through Clean Power Prescription we will directly support the health of our patients and community while helping to reduce energy-related financial stresses and provide greater peace of mind at home, which we know can support overall wellness in their lives,” Bell explained.

The program is fueled by solar panels that have been installed on BMC’s newly renovated administrative building at 960 Mass Avenue in Boston, which is a designated environmental justice zone. Providers will be able to flag eligible patients to prescribe energy credits.

Through a partnership with energy provider Eversource and the SMART program, run by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the solar panels will be run through a net metering system to allocate those credits.

The pilot will begin with 80 households with eligible patients in BMC’s Complex Care Management program. Recipients will get monthly credits that equate to an average of $50 each month. This shakes out to around $600 in savings per household annually, or 30 percent of the average Boston annual electric bill.

This program comes as the healthcare industry grows its understanding of social determinants of health, which include housing security and environmental factors. In particular, the ability to pay one’s utility bills—including energy costs—can impact health outcomes.

A patient with asthma, for example, may be more sensitive to air quality and temperature. It is well-documented that extreme heat waves can cause adverse health events, especially in low-income communities.

Anna Goldman, MD, MPH, MPA, a primary care physician at BMC, designed the Clean Power Prescription with Robert Biggio, senior vice president and chief sustainability & real estate officer at BMC, to address those issues.

“When people can’t afford the cost of running their air conditioner, they can be exposed to extreme heat, or they might under-use treatments like CPAP or nebulizers that rely on electricity,” Goldman said in a statement.

“Through this innovative program, we are able to directly improve patients’ health, while providing a healthier environment and economic mobility opportunities for the communities we serve,” Goldman added. “Our program also helps to spread the benefits of cheaper, less-polluting renewable power more equitably as we work toward decarbonizing our electrical grid.”

BMC was able to launch the pilot because of tax credits offered as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the organization said. The “Low Income Communities Bonus Credit” incentivizes solar projects that help low-income households access clean energy, and according to BMC, it is among the first health systems in the nation to use the tax credit in this way.

The health system said its community partners around Boston could also benefit from the tax credit by contributing 50 percent of their own renewable energy credits to the Clean Power Prescription program. The tax credits can offset the costs of investing in solar panels while also helping BMC include more patients in the pilot program.

BMC said this program comes as a part of its overall mission to improve the well-being of the traditionally underserved population it treats and address social determinants of health.

The health system consistently ranks among the most racially inclusive organizations in the Lown Institute’s assessments. BMC also touts its efforts toward improving food security through its Preventive Food Pantry, Teaching Kitchen, and Rooftop Farm.

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