In 2019, Joyce Bigelow — a Kaiser Permanente member in Vancouver, Washington — spent 3 months living in her truck with her dog, sometimes parking in a church parking lot to sleep in the back seat. At 85 years old, this former nurse and counselor had recently lost her mobile home due to challenging circumstances. “I never imagined I would be homeless,” Bigelow said.
When her physician, Juan Munoz-Oca, MD, learned that she was homeless, he connected her with Maki Akiyama, a Kaiser Permanente social health navigator.
Kaiser Permanente care teams include navigators like Akiyama and others in similar roles who work with patients to identify their social needs. With an understanding of social factors that impact health — such as having a safe place to live, earning enough money to pay the bills, having enough food to eat, and being able to meet one’s basic needs — they can help with referrals and connections, and follow up to ensure continuity of care.
Akiyama put Bigelow in touch with local resources to help her find temporary housing and worked with the Vancouver Housing Authority to provide Bigelow with a section 8 voucher, which helps families with very low-incomes, and elderly and disabled people afford safe housing. Within 3 months, Bigelow moved into a permanent home.
“Between Maki and Dr. Juan, I’m here,” said Bigelow. “Emotionally, I’m relieved. I have a place. My dog is safe.” She is grateful to have a place to call home.
Bigelow’s experience is just one example of how Kaiser Permanente supports the total health of our members and the communities we serve by connecting people in need with local community organizations and resources.
In 2021, as part of a broader national effort to meet social health needs, Kaiser Permanente launched the community resource directory, an online, self-service platform that provides free and fast access to a growing database of organizations, programs, and services.
Anyone in need can find a wide range of resources that can be filtered by ZIP code, service type, and other criteria to support essentials like food, housing, paying bills, child care, and transportation.
For additional help connecting to resources, people can call a dedicated phone line — 1-800-443-6328 — to speak with a resource specialist who can provide assistance.
Anand Shah, MD, vice president of social health at Kaiser Permanente, has heard many success stories like Bigelow’s about the connections that have been made through Kaiser Permanente clinicians, the online community resource directory, and the phone line.
“People are anxious about the basics — food, rent, utilities,” said Dr. Shah. “Requests for support continue to grow and we expect to see the need increase, especially with the approaching holidays. While the holidays are meant to be joyful, it’s also a challenging time for many in need. It’s so important to provide additional support when and where we can.”