United Way of R.I.’s 211 program gets $1.5M toward expansion

PROVIDENCE – Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island has committed $1.5 million in funding to help the United Way of Rhode Island upgrade and expand its 211 health and social care program, the local nonprofit announced Tuesday.

United Way says it improved its 211 service to focus on linking health and social care providers around those who have complex needs. Currently, United Way says when health care organizations refer patients to other community organizations to address their needs, not often is there a mechanism for health care organizations to know and understand outcomes of patient referrals.

Now, with the funding from Blue Cross, United Way said it added a specialized technology platform, called “Unite Us,” to the 211 program. “Unite Us,” United Way said, interconnects a network of health and social care providers.

That means when someone calls 211 for assistance or notifies a health care provider that they need food, housing or other assistance, the gathered information is entered into the platform and electronic referrals are created for the services people need.

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United Way also said the referrals are tracked within the system and 211 staff make sure those individuals’ needs are addressed immediately.

“While access to medical services is vital to the well-being of our neighbors, we know that an overwhelming majority of a person’s overall health is driven by social, economic and environmental factors,” Larry Warner, United Way’s chief impact and equity officer, said in a statement. “Just as much as quality healthcare, we need to ensure Rhode Islanders have safe and affordable housing, nutritious food, and that we’re able to measure the change these have on people’s lives.”

Michele Lederberg, Blue Cross’ executive vice president, said in a statement that directly addressing areas outside of the traditional health system that have a significant impact on health, such as access to safe and affordable housing, nutritious food, and other basic needs, “enables us to better address health inequities within our state.”

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.