June 4, 2019

Kaiser Permanente Northwest launches Thrive Local social health network

Vast majority of Americans view social needs as integral to health care, according to a new Kaiser Permanente Social Needs Survey.

PORTLAND, Ore., – Kaiser Permanente has launched Thrive Local, a new social health network in Oregon and Southwest Washington that will be the most comprehensive, far-reaching network of its kind. Thrive Local will create connections between health care providers and social services agencies to address pressing social needs such as housing, food, safety, transportation, and utilities.

The network will be built locally in partnership with nonprofit and government agencies, with the goal of including other health systems and health centers to create a true communitywide resource that can be replicated across the nation.

“Social health is the next frontier in health care. This region, with its history of innovation in developing community-coordinated care, is well-positioned to create a social health model for the entire country,” said Ruth Williams-Brinkley, regional president for Kaiser Permanente in the Northwest. “Addressing all the factors that influence health, such as good nutrition, safe housing, and childhood trauma, is critical in transforming our nation’s health. We’ve seen positive results when we support patients with social workers and community health workers, and Thrive Local will help us take this approach to a broader scale and improve the health of not only our members, but the entire community.”

A new Kaiser Permanente survey asked respondents about barriers they face in meeting social needs, how those barriers prevent them from accessing health care, and how they want their doctors, nurses, and other care providers to help bridge those gaps.

Among the survey’s top findings:

  • Americans view social needs as an integral part of health care, with 89% saying safe and stable housing is very or extremely important to health care, and 80% saying reliable transportation is very or extremely important. Eighty-two percent say balanced meals are very or extremely important to health care.
  • Social needs serve as a barrier to health. A third of respondents reported experiencing stress related to social needs, and 28% of respondents reported having a social need act as a barrier to care in the last year. In addition, 39% frequently or occasionally experienced stress over accessing food or balanced meals, and 35% experienced stress over housing.
  • The vast majority of Americans want their medical providers to ask about social needs, with 97% of respondents saying their providers should ask about social needs during medical visits. Only 10% said they would feel nervous or annoyed by such questions.   
  • Social needs are predictors of physical and mental health. Americans who report experiencing an unmet social need in the past year are twice as likely to rate their health as fair or poor (16%) compared with those who did not experience an unmet social need (6%).

Read the full survey results.

“Where and how people live, work, and play drives more than half of health outcomes. To address total health, we, as physicians, need systems and networks that address our patients’ social needs,” said Imelda Dacones, MD, president and CEO, Northwest Permanente. “Health care in this country must continue to evolve — from acute episodic care to an integrated coordinated system focused on prevention and coordinated care management. This tool will accelerate our evolution as a sector to next-generation care delivery — a community-integrated model that connects physicians, our patients, and health care systems to community resources that address our patients’ socioeconomic needs.”

Kaiser Permanente Northwest is on the forefront of addressing social needs for its members. A Kaiser Permanente member in Vancouver recently described how her physician connected her with housing resources after discovering she was sleeping in her car.

In addition to being integrated into Kaiser Permanente's electronic health record system, where health care workers will have ready access to a directory of social services agencies, Thrive Local will allow health care providers to make referrals directly to community organizations and then track referrals to confirm that patient needs have been met. It will also be made available to community-based organizations at no cost.

“We share Kaiser Permanente’s vision for whole-person care of its members and the community,” said David Kelly, executive director, Area Agency on Aging & Disabilities of Southwest Washington. “The Thrive Local initiative will enhance our ongoing collaboration to build stronger community-clinical linkages, thereby improving people’s access to programs and resources to address social determinants of health. We value innovation and this new initiative’s potential to provide person-centered care, improve health outcomes, and support existing care delivery systems.”

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 more than 12.3 million members in eight 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.


Debbie Karman