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Healing Beyond the Hospital: How Bon Secours’s Holistic Approach to Healthcare Equates to Economic Development

Written by Amanda Maher

In the early 1980s, Bon Secours Baltimore Health System was faced with a critical decision: with the area of Southwest Baltimore continuing to decline, should the hospital pack up and leave? It would be an unusual move. Hospitals are overwhelmingly rooted in their communities, hence the term “anchor institution.” And indeed, Bon Secours was the area’s leading anchor institution and healthcare provider.

“It became clear that if they moved out [to another county], there wasn’t anything that was going to be left” in Southwest Baltimore, says Bon Secours vice president David McCombs. So instead of fleeing like so many others had already, Bon Secours decided instead it could leverage its influence to revitalize the disinvested neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore.

Initial community development efforts launched by the Bon Secours of Maryland Foundation in the 1990s largely focused on improving health outcomes of area residents. But too often, the Foundation was approached by people looking for money. In 2012, looking instead to brand itself as a community and economic development initiative, the Foundation was renamed Bon Secours Community Works (BSCW). For the nonprofit Catholic hospital, providing direct medical care (often at low- or no-cost to local residents) was just one part “of a larger comprehensive program that addresses the physical, the behavioral, and the psycho-social aspects of care,” explains George Kleb, Bon Secours’ Executive Director of Housing & Community Development.

Today, BSCW provides a number of community and economic programs for the local community, including:

  • Family Support Center: Serves pregnant mothers and families with children up to three by providing Early Head Start services, GED preparation, developmental child care, parenting classes, employment readiness, counseling, tutoring, and money management to help families become more self-sufficient.
  • Women’s Resource Center: A daytime drop-in center where women who are struggling with substance abuse, domestic violence, homelessness, and mental health issues can find social and healthcare services.
  • Affordable Housing: The hospital has developed and now owns and operates more than 640 apartment units for low- and moderate-income families, seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Youth Employment and Entrepreneurship Program (YEEP): This 12-week job readiness program targets local youth ages 13-17 and helps them find after-school and summer jobs. The initiative is intended to help break the cycle of low high school graduation rates and poor employment histories faced by local residents.
  • Career Development: The Earn It! Program provides job-readiness and job-placement support for those aged 18 and older. Community Job Hub provides local residents with access to a daily computer lab and computer literacy training. The Clean & Green Landscaping program trains local workers to transform vacant lots in West Baltimore into green, well-maintained usable spaces. The Re-Entry Program provides case management, career coaching and a 12-week training program to ex-offenders to help prepare them for employment opportunities.
  • Our Money Place: This program provides financial literacy courses for local residents to help them become more financially aware, begin building assets and create stronger financial futures for their families through financial planning, tax preparation and debt counseling services.

These programs have helped people like Tanya Smith, who went to Our Money Place after opening her first credit card and running up $5,000 in debt. Staff helped her untangle her credit mess and get back on track, and Tanya has since paid down her credit card debt to about $400. Each paycheck, she sets aside $50 to put into a savings account. “I’m really happy that I’ve come a long way,” Tanya says. “I’m not where I really need to be, but I’m heading in the right direction.” Tanya hopes to be able to pass these financial literacy skills on to her two teenage children, Rasheed and Tacole.

BSCW has also helped Lionel Terrell, who went from being a local drug dealer and convict to the supervisor of a Clean & Green Landscaping crew. “Before I began the Bon Secours Workforce Development program back in 2006, I was in and out of trouble with the law,” Lionel says. “After serving two years of a four-year jail sentence, I was looking for a way to turn my life around and give back to my community.” Under his leadership, dozens of Southwest Baltimore parks have been transformed. A new greenhouse was constructed at the corner of Fayette and Fulton Street, and his crew tackled five-foot-weeds to transform a lot on Bruce Street from an urban jungle into a park for local children.

“Now when I walk through my neighborhood, instead of people asking me for drugs, they ask me how I got where I am today,” Lionel rightfully boasts. “People see the transition in me, and that makes me feel good.”

And it’s not just residents who are feeling the impact.

In addition to Clean & Green, efforts like “Weed & Seed” bring together local residents to clean up parks, sidewalks and other community spaces. “Citizens on Patrol” pairs residents with police, code enforcement agencies and other partners to help crack down on illegal dumping, broken street lights and petty crimes.

“We engage residents to provide solutions and strategies for the challenges that they face, and to be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that come their way,” explains Erika McClammy, BSCW Director of Neighborhood Revitalization. “As a result, neighbors feel happier living on their blocks, they feel safer, they have more of a sense of ownership and they’re less fearful of their neighbors, especially their teen and young adult neighbors. And they’re more knowledgeable and empowered.”

Bon Secours, through its many BSCW programs, serves as an example of how anchor institutions—hospitals, universities, cultural institutions, and large employers alike—can create shared value by becoming more deeply ingrained in their communities.


To learn more about how anchor institutions are accelerating urban economic revitalization, visit


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