In response to sustained, record-breaking temperatures in the Pacific Northwest in summer 2022, Kaiser Permanente provided relief — and access to air conditioners — through a coordinated effort designed to help meet the health needs of members in Oregon and Southwest Washington who had low incomes and ongoing medical conditions.
Over the last several years, heat waves have increasingly affected the Pacific Northwest. In 2021 Oregon experienced an unprecedented heat dome — a high-pressure system that trapped extreme heat over the area. Three days of record-breaking temperatures led to the deaths of 69 people in Multnomah County alone.
The impacts of climate change, including extreme heat, are more deadly in low-income communities where the high cost of air conditioning and poor housing quality make heat relief a health equity concern.
In August 2022, Kaiser Permanente community health leaders launched a 2-pronged coordinated approach in the Northwest — a heat outreach campaign and a Medicaid-specific outreach — to connect eligible members to heat-relief resources.
The heat outreach campaign used real-time electronic medical record data to send targeted text and email messages to 2,432 Oregon and Southwest Washington Kaiser Permanente members. These members, based on current health conditions and recent hospitalization, were most at risk during extreme heat.
Members who responded to the messages spoke with a specialist for further screening. Kaiser Permanente identified 86 members who qualified for a portable floor or window air-conditioning unit.
At the same time, Kaiser Permanente’s Medicaid care coordination team in the Northwest reached out to Medicaid members and identified an additional 227 members who needed an air-conditioning unit.
During the screening process, other social health needs were identified — including food, housing, and financial assistance — enabling Kaiser Permanente to connect eligible members with local resources for additional support.
When Emma Traner, a Kaiser Permanente member in Portland, Oregon, received a unit, it eased her anxiety about how she would fare during extreme temperatures.
“I couldn’t afford to buy a new one,” said Traner, who suffered a stroke 3 years ago when her blood pressure spiked during a late-summer hot spell.
As of October 2022, Kaiser Permanente’s proactive outreach efforts have helped to provide over 300 air-conditioning units at no cost to members in need. Kaiser Permanente worked with local community partner Project Access NOW to manage the ordering and delivery of the units.
Kaiser Permanente first used this type of proactive outreach in 2019 with a text campaign that offered sign-up guidance for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which supports the food budgets of low-income families.
Elizabeth Engberg, lead product manager for Kaiser Permanente’s social health member initiatives in the Northwest
“We can identify those who need the assistance and then connect them to resources that are critical to their health.”
Initiatives like the heat outreach campaign are part of Kaiser Permanente’s broader national focus to meet the social health needs of our members and communities with preventive care and lower-cost interventions. Members and nonmembers alike have access to Kaiser Permanente’s community resource directory to find help in their local areas for needs that are essential to good health, such as housing, healthy food, financial assistance, child care, transportation, and more.
The success of our heat outreach campaign suggests a critical need for expanded outreach during heat emergencies. Elizabeth Engberg, lead product manager for Kaiser Permanente’s social health member initiatives in the Northwest, and her team plan to contact members in late spring 2023, ahead of the dangerously hot weather that will inevitably return.
“We know we’re onto something,” said Engberg. “We can identify those who need the assistance and then connect them to resources that are critical to their health.”