-Boston Medical Center will be the first in the country to offer Clean Energy Prescription, a new pilot program designed to address utilities as a social determinant of health while also taking into account renewable energy and climate change and how they impact health and well-being.
Through the pilot programme, doctors will be able to prescribe a lower energy bill powered by clean energy generated via solar panels on the BMC building, the organization said. This program is designed to address affordability of facilities, a key social determinant of health.
“For decades, Boston Medical Center Health System has focused on developing a model of care that looks holistically at the health of our patients and extends beyond conventional medicine to include important social factors of health such as inadequate housing, food insecurity, and barriers to economic mobility. “And climate change, all of which disproportionately impact the communities we serve,” Alastair Bell, MD, MBA, president and CEO of BMCHS, said publicly.
“With the Clean Energy Prescription, we will directly support the health of our patients and our community while helping to reduce energy-related financial stress and providing greater peace of mind at home, which we know can support overall health in their lives,” Bell explained.
The program is powered by solar panels installed in BMC’s newly renovated office building at 960 Mass Avenue in Boston, a designated environmental justice district. Providers will be able to identify patients who are eligible to prescribe energy credits.
Through a partnership with energy provider Eversource and the SMART program, administered by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, the solar panels will run through a net metering system to allocate those credits.
The pilot will begin with 80 families who have eligible patients in BMC’s Complex Care Management program. Recipients will receive monthly credits equivalent to an average of $50 each month. This results in a savings of about $600 per household per year, or 30 percent of Boston’s average annual electricity bill.
This program comes at a time when the healthcare industry is developing its understanding of the social determinants of health, which include housing security and environmental factors. In particular, the ability to pay utility bills – including energy costs – can affect health outcomes.
For example, a patient with asthma 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, MBA, a primary care physician at BMC, designed the Clean Energy Prescription with Robert Biggio, senior vice president and chief executive officer of Sustainability and Real Estate at BMC, to address these issues.
“When people can’t afford to run their air conditioners, they may be exposed to extreme heat, or they may not use enough treatments like a CPAP machine or electricity-based nebulizer,” 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 spread the benefits of cheaper, less polluting renewable energy more equitably as we work to decarbonize our electric grid.”
The BMC was able to launch the pilot program due to tax breaks provided as part of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA), the organization said. The Low-Income Communities Supplemental Credit incentivizes solar projects that help low-income families access clean energy and, according to BMC, is among the first health systems in the country to use the tax credit in this way.
Community partners across Boston can also take advantage of the tax credit by contributing 50 percent of their renewable energy credits to the Clean Energy Prescriptions Program, the health system said. Tax credits could offset the costs of investing in solar panels while also helping BMC enroll more patients in the pilot program.
BMC said this program comes as part of its overall mission to improve the well-being of the traditionally underserved populations it treats and address social determinants of health.
The health system consistently ranks among the most racially inclusive organizations in Lown Institute ratings. BMC also promotes its efforts to improve food security through its Preventive Food Pantry, Teaching Kitchen and Rooftop Farm.