May 21, 2021

UnitedHealthcare: Meeting People Where They Are

Closing gaps and broadening access to health care for underserved populations doesn’t happen with a top-down approach — one where a health system parachutes into a community with its prefab program. It happens when a health system listens to the community it hopes to serve and works with local partners to design an approach that meets local needs.

That’s what made STOP COVID, UnitedHealthcare’s five-week COVID-19 testing initiative, so effective. Organizers of the program, which took place in December at three churches in high-need neighborhoods on Cleveland’s east side, didn’t assume anything — that people would have insurance; that they would be able to schedule an appointment; or that, if they tested positive, they would automatically know how to isolate themselves safely.

Eileen Frost, a registered nurse who works in population health management for United, says the company calls this “meeting people where they are.”

“We’ve had other experiences with insurance companies that want to come in and do their program, not what the community wants,” she said. “I was pleased that United really meant what they said — they really catered to the community.”

It completely won over Keisha Krumm, executive director and lead organizer for Greater Cleveland Congregations (GCC), the community partner that helped bring STOP COVID to life. Krumm was skeptical when United approached her group. “We’ve had other experiences with insurance companies that want to come in and do their program, not what the community wants,” she said. “I was pleased that United really meant what they said — they really catered to the community.”

That meant offering walk-in testing — no insurance needed and no appointment necessary. People could be tested whether or not they had symptoms or had been exposed to someone with COVID-19. Said Frost, “If you just needed that peace of mind to know ‘I’m safe around my family,’ you didn’t have to jump through hoops.”

People coming in for testing provided the opportunity to connect in other ways, meeting other needs. Those who came received boxes of food and kits for cleaning and sanitizing their homes. Representatives of Federally Qualified Health Centers were on-site, meaning people with no regular health care provider could begin a relationship that could lead to greater long-term wellness.

Krumm outlined some of the ways United was willing to tailor the program to the neighborhoods. Staging at three locations rather than just one made access easier for more people. Organizers adapted to the challenges posed by century-old church buildings that lacked easy access for those with disabilities; in one case, the sanitizing kits had to be carried in one at a time.

The most important accommodation was staffing the event in neighborhoods of the people they were serving. People from the target neighborhoods were hired to do registration and distribute the food and sanitizing kits. Many of the nurses and other medical providers who performed the actual tests also lived in the neighborhoods.

Having diversity among the helpers — people of color and younger professionals — earned instant and invaluable credibility for the project. So did the presence of trusted pastors, who dropped by the sites regularly. In the end, the project administered more than 3,500 COVID-19 tests.

The connections made through STOP COVID will yield better health outcomes long beyond the five weeks of the project. For one, GCC is better prepared to link people with primary health care. Said Krumm, “We wouldn’t have had that relationship with the Federally Qualified Health Centers without United.”

The Medicaid Managed Care value of designing solutions to fit community needs paid off.

“People were so grateful to have a place where you could just show up,” Krumm said. “Without that resource, there would’ve been a lot more spread in our community.”

Share this article:
Sign up to receive articles in your inbox: