Investing in health equity and expanded access to health care

Now more than ever, health care models need to shift to bring care directly to those who need it. What’s more, the COVID-19 pandemic has created an urgency in the need for quality health care access and at times, revealed and deepened long-standing inequalities.

For some parts of the country, creating opportunities for better access means a more engaged understanding of the barriers that exist in underserved areas. For example, California currently ranks 48th nationally in access to primary care providers, according to America’s Health Rankings, and nearly 1 in 3 families struggle to cover basic needs.

In order to address this need for greater access, an investment is being made to help organizations at the local level remove barriers in the way of care. In San Diego, UnitedHealthcare donated $1.5 million to support 17 organizations who can help provide transportation, mobile health care units and more to those in need.

The organizations receiving funding range from community- and faith-based entities, federally qualified health centers, nonprofits and educational institutions. Each work to not only address the health disparities of a community but also the social determinants — or social barriers, such as access to transportation, education or stable housing — that may affect one’s overall health.

A focus on specific population health challenges, based on insights from UnitedHealthcare — including things like housing insecurity, access to primary care, health equity training and mental health supports — helps those on the frontlines make lasting, meaningful change.

For instance, one recipient was Champions for Health, a San Diego County-funded organization that has been addressing the needs of the medically underserved since 1968. Part of their most recent work has been delivering COVID-19 vaccinations, providing 31,000 doses at 685 locations in 2021 alone. Roughly 86% of those vaccinations were given in health equity zip codes. They received $95,000 in UnitedHealthcare funding to purchase and equip a special sprinter van that helps transport personnel, equipment, and supplies across the county.

“Health has a much greater meaning than just health care, and UnitedHealthcare has always helped us provide caring and efficient resources for patients in need,” says Adama Dyoniziak, executive director of Champions for Health. “They work with us hand in hand, and they understand what health equity is.”

Family Health Centers, the largest provider of safety net health care in San Diego County, also received funding for the purchase of two electric mobile unit "Tiger Teams" that will provide basic primary care, vaccinations and other mobile-capable services in underserved communities, targeting populations unable to leave their home to access care.

Rethinking how care can and should be delivered to meet the needs of the community is an essential piece of the ongoing work to address health equity and promote better health outcomes. Through these investments, innovative solutions to increase access may better address issues at the local level — but can also become part of a health care model that is greater than the sum of its parts.

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