Program helps connect people to employment — and better health

The ways in which we live and work have a clear impact on our daily lives. If we are gainfully employed or if we’re struggling to find work, it determines how we’re able to support ourselves and our families. However, there’s another major factor that our employment may impact — our health.

In fact, employment is considered a social determinant of health – the conditions that may influence a person’s overall well-being. 

Studies show that if you have meaningful employment with job benefits such as insurance, paid sick leave or parental leave and a steady stream of income to support housing, food and other essentials, it’s likely to have a positive impact on your health. Conversely, a lack of employment — or work that is low-quality, unstable or poorly paid — may have adverse effects on your health. Unemployment may lead to higher levels of depression and anxiety, plus stress-related conditions, like high blood pressure or heart disease. 

A pilot program in Pennsylvania is hoping to address these employment needs. From March 15 to April 20, 2020, Pennsylvania had more than 1.5 million unemployment compensation claims filed, as the state rolled out COVID-19 mitigation efforts. 

“The spike in applications has put unprecedented stress on the system and as a result employment support services and solutions are going to be critical to our region to help individuals who are in dire need,” said Corey Coleman, vice president of Community & Strategic Partnerships in the state.

At three sites in the southern tier of the state, UnitedHealthcare is connecting members to employment services, while also helping to support the partners that provide these services. Here are a few examples of the program in action:

  • Helping to provide scholarships to the Fayette County Community Training Institute’s seven-week Nurse Aide training program. Located in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, it helps low-income students get the education needed for a career in nursing.
  • Offering a week-long quarterly employment bootcamp through the Southwest Community Development Corporation near Philadelphia for up to 80 high-need individuals. The bootcamp includes workshops, mock interview training and a job fair. Participants also receive a small stipend to help them buy necessary materials for their job search. 
  • Supporting more than 100 low-income community members to access Tec Centro’s health care training program and job search/placement program. Located in the Lancaster region, the development center also offers education and skills training programs.

New members to the Community Plan of Pennsylvania are assessed across a variety of social determinant gaps, including employment. Once the participants have been identified as being a good fit with one of the three partnering organizations, a representative from UnitedHealthcare helps to make the connection, as well as providing additional resources, like scholarships, to allow them to participate.

Although the program is still in its early stage, with 500 members identified, there is hope for continued expansion.

“We want to be able to have screening on all members,” Corey said. 

By connecting members to programs with established track records of finding people quality employment, the expectations for the outcomes are high. For example, the program in Fayette County has seen 95% of previous participants connected to employment in health care. Similar results are expected for the UnitedHealthcare scholarship students.

Employment is just one piece of the social determinants puzzle, but it’s an important one. Assisting members with their employment needs is more than a potential paycheck — it’s one more way to address their health.

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