August 15, 2019

Coming together to address social needs

Hundreds of social-service agency leaders gathered in Portland, Oregon, to learn about Thrive Local, Kaiser Permanente’s groundbreaking new social health network.

Social services providers join a panel discussion at the Thrive Local community kickoff in Portland.

The room was buzzing in Portland as Kaiser Permanente leaders introduced area social services providers to Thrive Local, the organization’s innovative network designed to address pressing social needs such as housing, food, transportation, and safety.

Ruth Williams-Brinkley, regional president for Kaiser Permanente of the Northwest, told attendees at the August 9, 2019, event that Kaiser Permanente has taken significant steps to help members with their social needs, but it needs to engage the whole community.

“I believe we share a common vision — to give the people we serve the best possible chance at a happy, healthy life,” she said. “It isn’t enough that we treat medical issues. As one of our members eloquently put it, ‘If you can’t treat the whole person — you can’t heal anyone.’”

A panel of Portland nonprofit leaders took part in the event, including Marcus Mundy, executive director, Coalition of Communities of Color.

“The Northwest has a big responsibility to show that this is something that can work across the nation,” Mundy said.

Finding solutions to ‘milk or medicine’

A Kaiser Permanente survey found that 1 in 4 people living in Oregon and Southwest Washington say an unmet social need was a barrier to health in the past year, and 93% want their medical provider to ask about their social needs and connect them with resources. In addition, 13% of those surveyed say they had to choose “milk or medicine” — prioritizing food or rent over seeing a doctor.

On stage at the Portland event, Bechara Choucair, MD, chief community health officer for Kaiser Permanente, recalled a time early in his career when he realized a patient wasn’t interested in receiving a screening test because his immediate concern was where he was going to sleep that night.

“Working through those challenges, and overcoming them with you, is a top priority for Kaiser Permanente because the current state of unmet social needs in America is serious,” Dr. Choucair said.

Close to 300 people from Oregon and Southwest Washington attend to learn more about Thrive Local.
Close to 300 people from Oregon and Southwest Washington attend to learn more about Thrive Local.

Coming to communities across the country

Thrive Local, first announced in May 2019, will be the most comprehensive social health network of its kind. Together with technology company Unite Us, Kaiser Permanente will build the network in close partnership with nonprofit and government agencies, as well as other health systems and health centers. The goal is a unified, robust community resource that can be replicated across the United States.

Thrive Local will be integrated into Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record system, where health care teams will have instant access to a directory of social services agencies. Providers will be able to make referrals directly to community organizations and then track referrals to confirm that a member’s needs have been met. Unite Us will work with participating agencies to integrate the Thrive Local platform into their existing tech infrastructures.

Within 3 years Thrive Local will be available to 12.3 million Kaiser Permanente members and the 68 million people who live in the communities it serves across the country.