Stamford Hospital Anchors the Vita Health and Wellness District
The West Side of Stamford, Connecticut, is a historically impoverished neighborhood that has suffered from economic disinvestment, blight, and high rates of crime. These conditions and other factors contributed to poor health outcomes for residents, including high rates of chronic disease. In 2011, two major institutions in the neighborhood, Stamford Hospital and the local public housing agency Charter Oak Communities (COC), took advantage of their partnership, cemented in a 2009 land swap, to launch the Stamford Vita Collaborative. This multipartner initiative developed a strategic revitalization plan and established the Vita Health and Wellness District, a health-focused neighborhood of approximately 500 acres centered on a mile-long stretch of the Stillwater Avenue commercial corridor in the West Side. Vita’s more than 20 member organizations are implementing 6 sets of strategies. The primary strategies address housing and health care, represented by the redevelopment of COC’s public housing and the expansion of Stamford Hospital’s campus. Additional programs and services, such as the communal Fairgate Farm and the Parents as Co-Educators program, address the areas of nutrition, education, jobs, and social cohesion.
Housing and Health Care Lead the Way
Charter Oak Communities (COC), formerly known as the Stamford Housing Authority, began replacing its obsolete public housing clustered in the West Side in the 1990s. COC’s approach of replacing traditional public housing with low-density, mixed-income communities began with the replacement of the 1930s-era Southfield Village and continued through the 2009 replacement of Vidal Court, the original site of which was turned over to Stamford Hospital for use in the campus expansion. Over the past 2 decades, COC has stabilized or replaced more than 1,000 housing units to create 6 mixed-income developments. Another COC development, containing 78 apartments and a 22,000-square-foot medical office for physicians in private practice, will be completed in summer 2018, and at least one more development is planned.
Each COC community has both market-rate and affordable units with rents limited to 30 percent of the tenant’s income. The 876 subsidized units are open to tenants earning no more than 60 percent of the area median income, and the 347 market-rate units have no income limits. The market-rate and subsidized units are indistinguishable from one another to reduce stigma, and all COC developments were built with health and safety in mind. Each community is smoke-free, well lit, constructed with materials containing low levels of volatile organic compounds, and furnished with ENERGY STAR® appliances. Every unit has a private entryway and a yard to promote a sense of ownership and safety, which were often lacking at the old COC properties. Additional features include sidewalks to promote walkability, playgrounds and green spaces, stoops and street-facing windows to encourage eyes on the street, and closed-circuit video monitoring and other security measures.
Although COC heads Vita’s housing activities, other members of the collaborative also play significant roles. The collaborative supports a multipartner Community Care Team to address the specific needs of persons who have experienced chronic homelessness. The team, which is chaired by a Stamford Hospital case manager, applies a collective impact approach that connects clients to permanent supportive housing at COC properties and services provided by other Vita members. Another Vita member, Family Centers, is the nonprofit social services provider for COC’s properties, supplying Resident Services Coordinators at each housing development as well as workshops on financial literacy, workforce preparation, and more.
Stamford Hospital also works with COC to address the social determinants of health by addressing the health and housing strategies. The hospital worked with COC and contributed capital funding to establish the Fairgate Community Health Center, a federally qualified health center located in COC’s Fairgate housing development. The health center is operated by Vita member Optimus Health and is open to all Stamford residents. Stamford Hospital provides ongoing operational support to the health center, and COC charges the institution a reduced rent.
Vita’s health strategies are also a major part of the West Side’s physical revitalization plan, centering on Stamford Hospital’s campus expansion. The expansion was made possible in part by the hospital’s land swap with COC. Stamford Hospital’s $450 million main building was completed in 2016, and planned features include the construction of a 50,000-square-foot, mixed-use building to be used according to community preference, a 550-car parking structure with ground-floor retail space, and a new loop road that will improve physical access to the hospital. These features are expected to attract private business to the Stillwater Avenue corridor, bringing jobs and private investment with them while improving the functionality of the hospital.
Vita’s engagement with health goes beyond physical infrastructure. “Vita enables organizations to look more comprehensively at health and wellness challenges such as the opiate crisis,” says Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of COC. As part of addressing these complex health topics, the collaborative hosts speakers and experts who help area service providers develop a common understanding of the challenges facing the West Side.
Vita activities that address other strategies include Fairgate Farm and the Parents as Co-Educators program. Fairgate Farm, a community farm owned and operated by COC, gives West Side residents an opportunity to work together to grow fresh produce, socialize, and participate in fitness and nutrition workshops held by Vita member organizations. In 2017, the farm donated more than 2,000 pounds of organic produce to area hunger relief organizations. Parents as Co-Educators focuses on immigrant families, helping prepare children aged 3 and 4 and their families for kindergarten. A partnership among several collaborative members, including the Family Centers, Children’s Learning Centers of Fairfield County, and Building One Community, Parents as Co-Educators graduated its first cohort in 2017.
The hospital and COC contribute funds to the Stamford Vita Collaborative’s administration. These funds, described by Stamford Hospital community and public affairs counsel Pam Koprowski as “co-backbone support,” go toward the salary of a program director and a project administrator who coordinate the various activities of the collaborative. Other support activities include grant writing, public communications, and community engagement.
Stamford Hospital contributes approximately $50,000 annually to the project plus an in-kind contribution of staff time for program management, data analysis, and professional support at Fairgate Farm events and activities. COC contributes approximately $150,000 annually, most of which is spent on Fairgate Farm and its full-time farm manager.
Vita’s direct programming activities are funded through a combination of partner contributions and grants. Notably, the city of Stamford has contributed funds from the Community Development Block Grant and HOME Investment Partnerships programs to housing and community development initiatives within the Vita Health and Wellness District.
Going Citywide: The Vita Health and Wellness Initiative
Although it will take time to see the results of some of Vita’s programming — the Parents as Co-Educators program, for example, graduated its first cohort in 2017 — the Vita Health and Wellness District has already seen successful outcomes, including precipitously reduced rates of street crime and an increase in recreational use of public parks. As a result, the Stamford Vita Collaborative is in the process of expanding Vita in 2018 to encompass all of Stamford, at which time the Vita Health and Wellness District will become simply the Vita initiative.
Interview with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 31 January 2018; Vita Health and Wellness District. 2013. “Health & Wellness District in Stamford, CT.” Accessed 22 January 2018; Vita Health and Wellness District. n.d. “About Vita.” Accessed 22 January 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 31 January 2018; Vita Health and Wellness District. 2013. “Health & Wellness District in Stamford, CT.” Accessed 22 January 2018.×
Correspondence with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 8 March 2018; Affordable Housing News. 2017. “Beyond Housing: A holistic, businesslike approach to affordable housing is working well in Stamford, Connecticut,” (Fall), 68–70. Accessed 22 January 2018; Maggie Gordon. 2014. “On 75th anniversary, Stamford’s Charter Oak Looks to Future,” Stamford Advocate, 20 September. Accessed 9 February 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 31 January 2018; Maggie Gordon. 2014. “On 75th anniversary, Stamford’s Charter Oak Looks to Future,” Stamford Advocate, 20 September. Accessed 9 February 2018; Charter Oak Communities. n.d. “Family Centers.” Accessed 26 February 2018.×
Correspondence with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 16 February 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, chief executive officer of Charter Oak Communities, 31 January 2018; Correspondence with Vincent Tufo, 16 February 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, 31 January 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, 31 January 2018; Build Healthy Places Network. 2015. “Good Housing Means Good Health,” blog, 29 April. Accessed 22 January 2018.×
Correspondence with Pam Koprowski, community and public affairs counsel, Stamford Hospital, 26 February 2018; Interview with Vincent Tufo, 31 January 2018.×
Correspondence with Pam Koprowski, 26 February 2018; Correspondence with Vincent Tufo, 16 February 2018.×
Interview with Vincent Tufo, 31 January 2018; Janet Viveiros and Lisa Sturtevant. 2016. “The Role of Anchor Institutions in Restoring Neighborhoods: Health Institutions as a Catalyst for Affordable Housing and Community Development.” Accessed 23 January 2018.×
Correspondence with Vincent Tufo, 16 February 2018; Interview with Vincent Tufo, 31 January 2018.×