May 24, 2021

Supporting access to telehealth for vulnerable populations

Kaiser Permanente grants help fund community organizations working to expand virtual care services for people with low incomes and who have no health care insurance.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the nonprofit So Others Might Eat, known as SOME, was rightfully concerned.

The community-based organization provides health care and other services to people experiencing poverty and homelessness in the Washington, D.C., area. Stay-at-home orders and efforts to reduce potential exposure to the coronavirus meant limited access to in-person clinics and office visits. SOME wanted to make sure the people it served still had access to care.

“We know that the population we serve — predominantly Black Washingtonians experiencing homelessness and extreme poverty — will experience the most severe outcomes, medically and economically, from COVID-19,” said Berinna Doggett, SOME’s senior vice president and chief clinical officer.

So, SOME, which helps people manage chronic illness and mental illness, incorporated telehealth options into its services. The changes allowed the organization to increase the number of people receiving behavioral health services by 300%. 

Still, more support was needed. To further expand its virtual care services, SOME applied for a grant from the Virtual Care Innovation Network, a community health collaboration founded by Kaiser Permanente.

Innovating to help meet community members’ needs

In the first 3 months of 2021, SOME received a $57,000 grant from Kaiser Permanente’s Virtual Care Innovation Network. The nonprofit is using the money to help purchase connected devices, virtual care software, and audiovisual platforms to offer telehealth group therapy and telemedicine.

With the funding, SOME is also working to reduce patient and health care workers’ exposure to COVID-19 by setting up virtual care kiosks — private areas onsite at the SOME clinic — where patients can access these devices in a socially distanced setting.

“We know that the telehealth kiosks allow people to engage with our services who otherwise would not,” said Doggett.

Working to ensure everyone has access to telehealth

SOME is just one community-based organization that received funding from Kaiser Permanente’s Virtual Care Innovation Network in the first quarter of the year. A total of $2.37 million was distributed to 59 safety net organizations — which provide health care to patients regardless of their ability to pay — to ensure that people with low incomes and who are uninsured, and people experiencing homelessness have continued access to high-quality telehealth, even after the pandemic ends.

An additional $1.45 million was distributed in the first quarter of 2021 to 18 organizations that help further advocacy for telehealth policies benefitting safety net providers.  

“This funding is critical to ensure that virtual care continues, uninterrupted, for patients who rely on community-based health centers for care,” said Cynthia Telles, PhD, Community Health Committee chair for the Kaiser Foundation Health Plan and Hospitals boards of directors. “Kaiser Permanente is a pioneer in virtual care, and we want to ensure that every person in every community we serve has access to this valuable health tool, which helps expand access to high-quality health care.”

Additional community health grants

Kaiser Permanente engages with communities through charitable contributions to support their needs and improve community health. “Grants to community-based organizations such as SOME reflect our deep commitment to having a meaningful and sustained impact in our communities. We can’t do it alone,” said Stephanie Ledesma, interim senior vice president of community health programs for Kaiser Permanente.

In the first quarter of 2021, Kaiser Permanente awarded a total of $29.2 million in grant funding, with grants awarded to organizations working to:

  • Address systemic racism and the accompanying trauma
  • Ensure equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines in our communities
  • Combat the surge in violence against Asians and Asian Americans and support the rights, health, and wellness of the Asian, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander communities

Kaiser Permanente also serves the community through a range of programs including Medicaid, charitable health coverage, medical financial assistance, and medical research.