February 2, 2023

Addressing social isolation in the Northwest

Kaiser Permanente invests $3.3 million to build healthy social connections to curb depression, anxiety, and stress in diverse Oregon communities.

Contact: Kim Mounts

PORTLAND, Ore. — Kaiser Permanente of the Northwest has awarded $3.3 million in community grants to 11 nonprofit organizations. The grants are part of a new initiative aimed at building social connections and reducing social isolation in diverse communities that have faced discrimination because of race, ethnicity, sexual identity, immigration status, and more.

“We know that social isolation has a negative impact on a person’s physical and mental health,” said Jeff Collins, president of Kaiser Permanente of the Northwest. “COVID-19 has compounded that sense of isolation, disrupting relationships and support services in these already challenged communities.”

The grantees are:

  • Accion Politica PCUNista — Woodburn
  • Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon Communities United Fund — Portland
  • Basic Rights Education Fund — Portland
  • Black Oregon Land Trust — Corbett
  • Center for African Immigrants and Refugees Organization — Portland
  • Centro Latino Americano — Eugene
  • El Programa Hispano Catolico — Gresham
  • Friendly House — Portland
  • Imagine Black Futures — Portland
  • Samoa Pacific Development Corporation — Portland
  • Wild Diversity — Portland

The health effects of social isolation

The social and emotional well-being grant initiative was created in collaboration with the Coalition of Communities of Color, an Oregon statewide community-based organization, in response to recommendations from community members who expressed that isolation from their support systems has led to depression, anxiety, and stress.

Many diverse communities have experienced stress and trauma across generations, often because of racism, discrimination, and exclusion due to race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, or immigration status.

The community members are seeking opportunities for social connections that respect their cultural values and allow them to create a sense of belonging.

“Kaiser Permanente understands the link between generational trauma, social isolation, and the health outcomes seen later in life, including issues related to mental health, addiction, and chronic disease,” said Tracy Dannen-Grace, director of community and social health for Kaiser Permanente of the Northwest.

Additionally, mental health and wellness can carry different meanings and stigmas in different communities, making it hard for individuals to feel comfortable talking about personal challenges and seeking help.

Engaging with Oregon nonprofits

“As we considered how to best support these communities, we knew it was critical to engage with local nonprofits that deeply understand their concerns and desires,” Dannen-Grace said. “They know firsthand how to create culturally responsive programs that will resonate with the communities they serve.”

Kaiser Permanente received more than 70 applications from organizations across the Northwest, underscoring the importance of addressing this pressing need. Grantees went through a vigorous review process that included subject matter experts and culturally diverse review teams.

New research is emerging that supports regional findings. A 2020 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine suggests that immigrant and lesbian, gay, and bisexual populations experience loneliness more often than other groups. For example, stressors such as language barriers, differences in community, family dynamics, and new relationships that lack depth or history can increase social isolation for first-generation immigrants. Similarly, gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations tend to have more loneliness than their heterosexual peers because of stigma, discrimination, and barriers to care.

In addition to financial grants, grant recipients will be supported by an independent evaluator who is trained in culturally responsive approaches. Grantees will also come together over the course of the 2 1/2-year grant to share learnings, strategies, and outcomes.

About Kaiser Permanente

Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America's leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, Kaiser Permanente has a mission to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve 12.6 million members in 8 states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal Permanente Medical Group physicians, specialists, and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery, and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education, and the support of community health.