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Community Advocates Are Helping Californians Thrive

Part of Blue Shield of California's Health Reimagined initiative, community advocates are improving health outcomes

When it comes to navigating the healthcare system, especially in these difficult days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s good to have someone on your side.

Blue Shield of California has launched a program to place community health advocates in medical practices and resource centers throughout the state last year.

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The pilot program, which first started in November 2019 as part of the insurer’s comprehensive Health Reimagined initiative examining and reinventing virtually every facet of the healthcare experience, aims to promote preventive measures to help manage member health and identify health risks. The health advocates focus on mostly non-medical problems (social needs) facing patients, such as housing, transportation or food assistance.

Overall, the work of these advocates centers around:

  • Serving as liaisons with local communities and healthcare organizations
  • Coordinating quality healthcare and community resources
  • Reducing social challenges and barriers to achieving positive health outcomes
  • Increasing access to services and care coordination
  • Leveraging Unite Us and mySidewalk technology to help inform their work in understanding the communities they serve

The advocates’ assistance has become even more pressing since most of the state adopted shelter-in-place and other restrictions in response to the pandemic. Some examples include:

  • The community health advocate assigned to Sacramento’s Capital OB/GYN practice noticed that the children of a patient were experiencing high anxiety due to COVID-19. The advocate provided the children with art supplies to ease their concerns, which helped both the children and the mother attend her medical needs.
  • A diabetes patient in Sacramento, who has been caring for her ailing husband, was prescribed a new type of insulin to help her condition. However, she had complications with sourcing the new prescription. Her advocate recognized the what the patient was having to juggle, and was able to step in and assist with securing the new medicine. And now, both the patient and doctor are grateful that this assistance and hands-on solution was available.
  • In Butte County, a patient of Paradise Medical Group needed a life-saving surgery at UCSF –  a three-hour drive away. Transportation to and from the hospital was a challenge to coordinate, so the community health advocate provided solutions that removed logistical obstacles allowing the patient to receive the care and recover at home.

However, even before the pandemic, community health advocates were making a difference:

  • A patient of Associated Family Physicians in the Sacramento region, who was suffering from home insecurities, was able to be placed in permanent housing thanks to their community health advocate.
  • Jose Herrera, a Blue Shield of California Promise Health Plan member, was able to navigate his pulmonary fibrosis diagnosis with the help of his advocate, Denise Oliva. She provided direction to Jose and his wife on their nutrition, non-medical needs, and more. Learn more about their story in the video below:

The community health advocate program is part of Blue Shield’s larger Health Reimagined work, an innovative plan to transform the healthcare system through caring for members, empowering providers, and engaging communities through pilot programs in areas of holistic health, personal care, and high-tech, high-touch support.