Better Together: Uniting NYC to Address Nutrition and Beyond
The Better Together series highlights some of our most dynamic partnerships across Unite Us’ first decade. For over 10 years, we have been expanding what’s possible, bringing sectors together to achieve whole-person health for every member in our communities. Hear from those partners here and learn how you can join us to unlock the potential of your community.
Health disparities among New Yorkers are significant, persistent, and increasing. Public Health Solutions (PHS) works to change that trajectory and supports New York City families to achieve optimal health and build pathways to reach their potential. PHS provides direct services to families, supports community-based organizations through our long-standing public-private partnerships, and bridges the gap between healthcare and community services. PHS and Unite Us partner on WholeYouNYC, a city-wide, trustworthy, and reliable community resource network that connects healthcare and social services.
One Client’s Story
When we hear the phrase “food insecurity,” we don’t immediately connect it to cancer. “Hector’s” story, however, illuminates a common scenario that many community members face when receiving treatment for cancer. Through our partnership with PHS, New York City’s largest public health nonprofit, Hector (not his real name), along with thousands of others, are receiving the services they need through a difficult period in their lives.
The medical provider that treated Hector’s cancer referred Hector and his partner to PHS’s WholeYouNYC. Because Hector was the primary earner in the household and was unable to work while recovering, he and his partner were hoping they could receive supplemental food and nutrition benefits to help tide them over during this time.
During the screening conversation with Hector, one of PHS’ Food Navigators determined that the couple was eligible to receive medically tailored, home-delivered meals and SNAP benefits. A PHS network partner confirmed through Unite Us that he was eligible and enrolled Hector to receive their services. The following week, during his first rounds of chemotherapy, three nutritious meals a day were delivered to their home.
PHS’ SNAP enrollment program was also busy at work on the couple’s SNAP benefits application. Thanks to a quick turnaround and thorough application completion, Hector and his partner were rapidly approved to receive monthly SNAP benefits.
Going through a health crisis like cancer is extremely difficult, and when clients and families are concerned about paying rent and putting food on the table, the stress escalates. Being able to lift the family’s burden and improve Hector’s health was enormously gratifying for PHS’ team.
Last year, because of hundreds of new enrollments in SNAP benefits, Home Delivered Meals, and Diabetes Self-Management programs, PHS estimates that WholeYouNYC achieved $2.8M in healthcare savings through its network of food and nutrition services providers.
Cross-Sector Collaboration Across New York City
WholeYouNYC has the potential to revolutionize community health and improve the lives of millions of New Yorkers. This diverse network creates new healthcare, community, and public access points to community-based resources across the city that help New Yorkers resolve their unmet, health-related social needs. WholeYouNYC couples the power of Unite Us’ dynamic, collaborative software with PHS’ team of multilingual, culturally relevant community resource navigators to ensure people receive the right resources in the right place at the right time. Together, PHS and Unite Us partner with community-based organizations to build their capacity and secure new revenue streams for their work from healthcare providers, government, and philanthropy.
For this series, we asked PHS about our work together and their vision of cross-sector collaboration to create lasting change across our country.
As we reflect on a decade bringing sectors together through technology to ensure people’s needs are met, what do you think has changed the most for your organization since the start of our partnership?
In recent years, COVID-19, inflation and migration have strained the capacity of nonprofit, community-based organizations and resulted in an unprecedented need for services. Simultaneously, how community services are provided has been radically transformed with the introduction of virtual services and the remote issuance of benefits. In this new environment, efficient coordination and real-time communication across sectors and partners is more essential than ever before. As a result, a PHS/Unite Us partnership that started out as a quality improvement project to better coordinate access to a narrowly prescribed set of resources has grown into a more comprehensive public health infrastructure development project.
How does PHS think about or approach collaboration with other sectors?
Since the launch of WholeYouNYC, we have fostered a collaborative design approach across sectors, ensuring that the people participating in the system have strong input into how it is developed and implemented and that they form the human connections that contribute to optimal success. Systems transformation cannot be successful without a focus on human-centered design. To set the table for success, PHS has convened collaborative design sessions at multiple levels, from small, neighborhood-level partnerships to citywide, policy-oriented convenings. As NYC’s public health anchor institution, PHS has the influence that is needed to bring together stakeholders from the community, healthcare, government, philanthropy, and the private sector to advance the work and ensure it contributes to a shared vision of health equity for NYC.
What are the benefits of cross-sector collaboration to the individuals and families you serve?
The challenge to living a long and healthy life in NYC too often depends on whether a person lives in a safe neighborhood; experiences racism or discrimination; has access to medical care, food, and stable housing; or has adequate income, knowledge, and opportunities to make healthy choices. Additionally, despite spending $10,000 per person on healthcare for New York residents annually, our healthcare system fails to support a person’s health and well-being outside the four walls of medical care organizations.
This is in part because, when people are referred from healthcare organizations to social services providers, there is minimal follow-up to ensure they receive the help they need. Additionally, thousands of social services and community resources are available throughout New York City; however, poor coordination between providers results in New Yorkers being unable to access the help they need—even when it exists in their own backyard. These disjointed systems burden people with locating their own care, engaging with multiple agencies, and enduring a time-consuming process of coordinating various resources. As a result, New Yorkers continue to experience some of the worst health outcomes in the United States, despite numerous systems already in place to support good health.
WholeYouNYC aims to solve these problems and improve health equity by placing people at the center of care and connecting them with a network of resources to address their unmet needs. We have connected over 500 organizations that offer more than 800 programs across all New York City boroughs, including food, housing, employment, legal aid, youth training and development, health insurance, maternal support, sexual health services, and more.
Are there any upcoming programs or initiatives related to drivers of health and community health at PHS that you are excited about?
We are excited about adding the city’s new “Groceries to Go” initiative to our portfolio addressing food insecurity. Groceries to Go provides eligible New Yorkers with monthly credits to purchase groceries for delivery or pickup. Credits can be used to purchase SNAP-eligible foods and beverages through an online platform that links to hundreds of grocery stores in New York City. The credits can also be used to pay for service fees, tips, and delivery. Groceries to Go participants also receive a 50-percent discount on purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables using their credits. Participants can save up to $30 per month with this discount. There is tremendous potential to impact food insecurity when we combine this offering alongside SNAP enrollment and other food and nutrition services.
Looking another 10 years into the future, what is your biggest hope for cross-sector collaboration to improve community health?
Our biggest hope is that New Yorkers feel they have a health and human services system that recognizes their unique challenges—one they can trust in times of need. This is foundational to health equity. We hope that WholeYouNYC at scale results in a more accessible, coordinated, and accountable system of community care. We are committed to successfully leveraging what we learn in the data-driven insights provided by Unite Us to fill critical gaps in services and advocate for service expansions, enhancements, and improvements that will be essential to ongoing sustainability and success.
What thoughts would you share with the Unite Us team as they look out on the next 10 years?
A network is only as good as its people, and the nonprofit sector is increasingly strained. Unite Us leadership can help by providing secure insights and technical support to organizations as they grow their capacity and work to secure meaningful new sources of revenue. The platform can be a powerful tool in addressing the “wrong pocket” problem, where large healthcare providers reap healthcare quality incentive payments based on outcomes achieved by community-based organizations and low-cost community healthcare providers. Unite Us can support organizations to apply these insights to more effectively prove their value and achieve a greater share of value-based care incentives. The Unite Us Platform can be used to make a compelling case when it identifies unmet needs in the community and barriers to care for populations of interest to policymakers. This data can be amplified to secure policy wins and drive investment to where it is most needed.
For more information about Public Health Solutions, follow @wearephsny on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram; or visit HealthSolutions.org.
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About Unite Us
Unite Us is the nation’s leading software company bringing sectors together to improve the health and well-being of communities. We drive the collaboration to identify, deliver, and pay for services that impact whole-person health. Through Unite Us’ national network and software, community-based organizations, government agencies, and healthcare organizations are all connected to better collaborate to meet the needs of the individuals in their communities.