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Paul Leon, Cultivating a Culture of Health: Leaders Transforming Their Communities Skip to content

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Paul Leon, Illumination Foundation

Paul Leon photographed with plants in the background

Daniel Hennessy

Finding Solutions in Overlooked Assets

When people pass a vacant property—office building, house, motel, whatever—they might dismiss it as being worthless. Others might think, perhaps with a certain level of futility, Wouldn’t it be nice if this could be used for productive purposes? Couldn’t these forgotten structures be used as a solution to a problem?

Paul Leon had that thought—and acted on it.

Well, sort of. Leon actually saw the problem first, and that led him to the property assets most people saw as junk—but that he saw as treasure.

It all started when Leon was working as a public health nurse in Orange County, California and pursuing an MBA at the same time. That unique combination of interests should have been a tip-off to anyone who knew Leon that he just might be one to come up with some creative solutions.

He did. One day a friend brought Leon to a local armory that served as a large homeless shelter. Leon was shocked. Here he was, in one of the wealthiest parts of the country, and vast numbers of people were struggling just to have their basic needs met. He also learned that while homeless individuals could get their urgent health care needs addressed at hospitals and through the traditional health care system, once discharged, they had no safe place to recover and get well.

After Leon finished his MBA, he went to work, tapping skills and talents from his unique business-health care background. One day he identified what turned out to be a goldmine of a resource: older, underused motels, often in undesirable neighborhoods.

Out of that untapped opportunity was born the Illumination Foundation, which turns run-down or abandoned motels into clean recovery facilities and rooms for homeless people recently discharged from the hospital. Today, the Illumination Foundation offers housing assistance, medical care, and mental health services for the homeless population in the Los Angeles County, Orange County, and Inland Empire areas. It serves more individuals every year, including a growing number of older adults.

In addition to addressing immediate health needs and recuperation, the Illumination Foundation helps make connections to social services in the community, including getting people into stable, affordable housing and connecting them to coverage and services. The foundation has served and made a critical difference in the lives of over 8,000 individuals.

Better still, the Illumination Foundation creates efficiencies for the health care system itself. In California, individual hospital stays last approximately four days longer than the national average. Each extra day costs the hospital approximately $3,000 per day of inpatient care. Illumination Foundation Recuperative Care greatly reduces this cost to hospitals by taking homeless clients out of hospital beds and into its care. This effective model of care shows outcomes with 50 percent fewer readmissions within 90 days of being discharged to recuperative care than patients who are discharged to their own care.

How do you create a Culture of Health? How do you generate the kind of impact of the Illumination Foundation, an $8 million organization that now partners with Fortune 500 companies?

According to Leon, “There are just two things you need: find a need in the community, and then just be passionate about it.”

Leon is doing his part to spread the word and spark impact elsewhere. He’s talking to other communities around the country and sharing his creative solution.

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