A physical health condition is just one factor that can prevent someone from being as healthy as possible. Health is affected by physical, behavioral, and social drivers — so when we don’t have access to nutritious food, can’t afford prescription medicine, or don’t have childcare so we can get to our doctor’s appointments, these can have real consequences for our health. It’s one reason why healthcare companies work to address social drivers by connecting people with community resources in their area.
Organizations like Findhelp (formerly Aunt Bertha) are part of the social-drivers equation. The company maintains a database of more than 566,800 community programs, and people can type in their ZIP code at Findhelp.org to locate social care services in their area that might be able to help them with housing, food, healthcare, and other needs.
Findhelp is essentially a technology company: In addition to managing the free platform, it works with more than 400 health plans, hospital systems, local governments, schools, and community organizations. The Findhelp backend support and integrated social care connections allows these organizations to refer people to the help and even, in some cases, track outcomes and measure need.
The founder and CEO of Findhelp, Erine Gray, said he was inspired to start the company after his mother developed a rare brain disease and he realized that it often takes just one life-altering event to throw people and families off course. “If people in need, in their most dire moments, just knew what services are available to them and could connect and get the dignity of a yes or a no, that information problem is a solvable problem, and it’s done in many other sectors,” Gray said during an interview with The Indispensibles podcast.
Social Drivers: Making a Difference
Kristen LaMorticella, Medicare community resource support manager for Elevance Health, oversees a staff of licensed social workers who connect people with community care services — sometimes even contacting the organizations directly on their behalf — using Findhelp and other resources.
LaMorticella recalled one person who lived in Texas, was on supplemental oxygen, and faced the prospect of having his electricity turned off due to nonpayment. While he had applied to a program that provides utility assistance for low-income people, he hadn’t heard back, and a hot holiday weekend was fast approaching. LaMorticella’s team reached out to expedite the approval, explaining the situation. In the meantime, they also called the utility company and got the deadline for shut-off extended.
“The very next day, right before the long weekend, we got an email back from [the utility assistance program] saying they were committing to pay $1,500 toward his utility bill, resulting in his utilities not being shut off,” she said. “Not only that, but it would also help pay his bill through the remainder of the year.”
This person was just one of many they help every day.
Improving Community and Individual Health
“We know that when we address social drivers of health and help members connect to their community resources, they get the support they need,” LaMorticella said. “We're not seeing as many members going in and out of the emergency room — especially members experiencing homelessness. And it generally leads to better health outcomes, because they’re not as stressed about getting these basic human needs met.”
LaMorticella’s team uses a range of resources to help people — those who might be having difficulty making ends meet, are isolated, or face short-term challenges. “We’re all social workers, so we know how difficult it is to navigate some of these social service systems and some of the hoops that members need to jump through: the documentation they need to submit and the follow-up and advocacy that’s needed,” she explained. “That's what my team does. We go beyond just directing them to those services; we really try to get them connected.”
In addition to Findhelp, 211 is a United Way hotline (accessible by phone, text, and website) that puts people in touch with community health resources. The need is significant: hotline specialists responded to more than 41 million requests for help in 2020 and 2021. In 2021 alone, they made:
- 4.3 million connections to help reduce and prevent housing instability and homelessness
- 2.8 million connections to healthcare information and resources such as prescription payment assistance
- 2.7 million connections to help reduce hunger and food insecurity
- 2.3 million connections to utilities assistance
- 4.1 million connections to COVID-19 support and information
While connection and information are part of the solution to getting people the help they need, the depth of the need is another problem, and the social safety net is straining under the weight, said Dr. Pamme Lyons-Taylor, chief social impact officer for Elevance Health. In other words, social care networks help make connections, but ensuring that enough of the right resources are available is a bigger issue — especially given the impact of the pandemic, inflation, and other external pressures. “The data aggregators help us understand what's available,” she said. “The next evolution is that capacity issue and ensuring the organizations and networks are ready and supported to scale to meet the need.”