Courtesy of Pixabay and Gerd Altmann

Organizations that serve people in need have a new way to connect the public with useful services.

Tuesday, Metro United Way, Louisville Metro Government and the Jefferson County Public Schools formally unveiled United Community, an interactive technology platform to connect residents with resources in the health, education and human services sectors.

“When an individual has a need it’s usually not just one need,” says Metro United Way Chief Executive Theresa Reno-Weber. “It’s often times multiple needs.”

“It’s really about uniting the community around those we are trying to lift up,” said United Way President and Chief Executive Theresa Reno-Weber.

The shared data platform isn’t something that consumers log into. Rather, it’s a way for organizations to refer people electronically through United Community and to coordinate services between agencies, said John Blair, chief brand officer for the United Way.

So a counselor or other staff person, such as a hospital discharge nurse, who’s already working with a person could say, “You might also need help with X, Y, or Z and I can connect you with other services available through United Community,” he said.

That potentially eliminates the need to make phone calls to multiple organizations to find out who has an opening and ideally, reduces time and confusion, Blair said.

“It basically sends out a signal … and someone may pick that up and say, ‘Hey, we can help this person,’ ” Blair said.

Another advantage is that instead of being a one-way system in which it’s unclear whether the person gets helped or not, United Community creates a feedback loop so that it will be possible to determine who actually gets assisted and what services create better outcomes.

A small group, including Taylor Justice, left, of Unite Us and Theresa Reno-Weber, right, chats after the news conference.| Photo by Darla Carter

“When organization A makes a referral to organization B, it shows up into their queue,” said Taylor Justice, co-founder and president of Unite Us, the technology company behind the platform. “Once they accept that referral, it turns into a case, so the person who made the referral doesn’t have to continue to follow up. They just get real-time updates.”

The platform is basically being used to build an “electronic health record but for everything else in this community,” Justice said. ” … We’re about the people and then however many people are supporting that person and so all of that information will live in one place.”

Those in the community who might benefit include struggling students from families in need of support services, individuals with substance use disorder in need of treatment or job services and patients who need community services to eat more healthfully or secure their medications.

For example, if a person needs food, a referral could go out to several organizations that could help with food insecurity, or a person might need a mental health provider and be able to find an opening this way.

The idea is to prevent individuals from “falling through the cracks,” Blair wrote in an article for Medical News.

During Tuesday’s news conference, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said students sometimes struggle with personal issues, such as food and housing insecurity, and he thinks the platform will make it possible to assist them in a more immediate fashion.

“Throughout this country, our best communities that support education are those that work together and wrap their arms together around the issues and problems,” Pollio said. “… This is the dawning of a new day where we have community-wide participation in supporting our children and that is so important.”

An audience member reviews a United Community brochure. | Photo by Darla Carter

United Way has raised about $700,000 for the initiative and sponsors are helping to pay for individuals from an initial group of 50 organizations to get licenses to access the platform. About 500 people, including case managers, social workers, guidance counselors, family resource officers and others, will be connected to the platform.

Karyn Moskowitz, executive director of New Roots, which helps people access fresh produce, said she looks forward to being able to use the platform.

“Since I think access to fresh food is the most important social determinant of health, I’m really excited to be getting those referrals” from health-care providers and others, she said. Also, “I can now leverage partnerships with people I don’t even know yet to be referring these families to me who are struggling to access fresh local organic veggies and then plug them right into the Fresh Stop Markets.”

The technology already is being used in several other cities and states, from New York City to San Diego and many points in between, such as Detroit and North Carolina, Blair said.

“In a little over a year in Charlotte, N.C., they’ve seen a nearly 10-day decrease in the time it takes to make a successful client referral, and a 30-day decrease in the time it takes to close a referral,” Reno-Weber noted in Blair’s article.

Justice said that among the 55 communities using the technology, Louisville is a standout in terms of cross-sector collaboration. “This is the first one where everybody in the community came together at the same time,” he said.

Those involved, according to Reno-Weber, include co-leads Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness; Marland Cole, executive director of Evolve502: Louisville’s Promise from Cradle to Career; and Liz McKune, vice president of health integration at Passport Health Plan.

Major sponsors locally include the LG&E and KU Foundation, the James Graham Brown Foundation, the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, Kindred Healthcare, Passport Health Plan, and Norton Healthcare. Some other investors include Humana Inc. and the Community Foundation of Louisville.

Mayor Greg Fischer touts the United Community platform at a news conference. | Photo by Darla Carter

In the news conference, Mayor Greg Fischer touted the platform as a way for the community to work together in a smarter way to help children and others reach their full potential during a time when the city is under financial strain.

“When people show up hungry or without health care or without food, housing, we just can’t wish it away,” Fischer said. “It is the reality that we have to deal with … and I know we will rise to the occasion.”

This article has been corrected to note that 500 people, including case managers and others, from an initial group of 50 organizations will be connected to the platform. It’s also been updated with comments from Tuesday’s news conference.

 

Darla Carter
Darla Carter is a hometown girl who recently joined the staff of Insider Louisville to mostly cover health. She previously served as a longtime health and fitness writer for The Courier-Journal, where she also worked for the Metro, Neighborhoods and Features departments. Prior to that, the award-winning journalist wrote for newspapers elsewhere in Kentucky and Tennessee, covering a range of topics, from education to courts. She's a graduate of Western Kentucky University, where she studied journalism and philosophy, and is the proud mom of two young children.