Healthcare doesn’t just happen in a hospital. Our overall health is dependent on much more than doctors and medicines and therapies and procedures. It’s about having access to nutritious foods and dependable shelter, making connections with public and nonprofit services, and relaying reliable information when it comes to physical and mental wellbeing. We are all increasingly connected; and in many ways, our individual health is only as strong as that of the community around us. As the pandemic has made abundantly clear, the gaps in access to care in Southern California, especially among our minority populations, are as wide as they have ever been.
According to America’s Health Rankings, a state-by-state assessment of the nation’s health put together by the United Health Foundation, California ranks 48th in access to primary care providers and 49th for severe housing problems. That’s why San Diego-area healthcare providers, nonprofits, and community organizations have made health equity a priority. And UnitedHealthcare, one of the largest and most recognizable health insurers in the country, sees it as part of their mission to help.
Recently, UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of California announced a $1.5 million investment in community-based programs dedicated to reducing health disparities and improving health equity in San Diego. The money will back initiatives from 17 San Diego-area organizations, including community- and faith-based groups, educational institutions, federally qualified health centers, and nonprofits that are already targeting a specific health-related need or gap in access among underserved members of the community.
“We want to make a difference in the communities we serve by helping to address social determinants of health such as transportation and access-to-care issues,” says Kevin Kandalaft, CEO of UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of California. “Supporting local nonprofits and community-based organizations that are trying to fill a gap in care for at-risk populations is part of helping people lives healthier lives, which is our mission.”
Kandalaft also points out that, while the sum investment is large, they intentionally distributed the support among multiple organizations that serve the community with a variety of services, from homelessness to rural health care access and mobile care to extended recuperative care. The goal is to get the necessary funds into the hands of these grassroots programs that have an institutional knowledge of their areas of concentration, obstacles, and the specific needs of the populations they serve.
For instance, one recipient was Champions for Health, a San Diego County-funded organization that has been addressing the needs of the medically underserved and providing access to preventative and specialty care since 1968. Part of their most recent work has been delivering COVID vaccinations, of which they provided 41,000 doses at 685 locations in 2021 alone. Eighty-six percent of those were given in health equity zip codes. They received $95,000 in UnitedHealthcare funding to purchase and equip a special sprinter van that can transport personnel, equipment, and supplies across the county.
“Health has a much greater meaning than just healthcare, and UnitedHealth has always helped us provide caring and efficient resources for patients in need,” says Adama Dyoniziak, MPH, CPH, executive director of Champions for Health. “They work with us hand in hand, and they understand what health equity is. UnitedHealthcare is one of OUR champions.”
There’s also the Chicano Federation of San Diego County, another 50-year-old organization that invests in local communities through early-childhood education, nutrition programs, housing, and workforce and business development to help build resiliency and self-sufficiency. They will use their funding to build a community service center where their clients can receive all those services and more in one central location.
Other recipients include Father Joe’s Villages, a recuperative care program that will use the money for an extended care location to keep patients off the streets; San Ysidro Health, which will use the money to integrate behavioral health services into their clinics in rural parts of San Diego County; and Family Health Centers of San Diego, which has used the UnitedHealthcare funding to purchase two electric mobile unit “Tiger Teams” that bring primary care and vaccinations to people who are homebound, transportation-challenged, or otherwise unable to access healthcare.
All of this is just part of UnitedHealthcare’s ongoing efforts to support the community above and beyond providing insurance coverage. Just as the company sees health as an interconnected and holistic community-wide issue, they also understand the importance of treating the whole individual—mind, body, and spirit. That’s why UnitedHealthcare provides added benefits, like no-cost transportation for doctor appointments and social services, and programs for pregnant moms to ensure a healthy pregnancy and delivery, and why the company has invested more than $100 million to help vulnerable populations nationwide fight the pandemic.
“We know that a healthy community at large will drive a healthier population,” says Kandalaft. “We’re certainly interested in helping our members live healthier lives, and we also recognize that we are part of a larger community. We want to support the communities we serve, as a whole. We see the bigger picture.”