RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that Virginia will allocate $10 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding to create Unite Virginia, a statewide technology platform designed to connect vulnerable Virginians to health and social services. Working with Unite Us, a technology company that builds coordinated care networks of health and social service providers, the Commonwealth will implement an integrated e-referral system that unites government agencies, health care providers, and community-based partners and supports Virginia’s continuing COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
“The ongoing and widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic underscore the need to unite traditional health care settings and community organizations that address social determinants of health,” said Governor Northam. “This is about connecting people with the supports they need to live healthy lives. Having this critical infrastructure in place will also position our Commonwealth to better respond to and recover from the twin public health and economic crises we face, and advance health equity by ensuring medical care and social services are appropriately delivered to Virginians, reducing barriers to care, and identifying gaps to better our target resources.”
This initial funding allocation will cover startup and implementation costs to operate the e-referral system, which can integrate with widely used electronic medical record systems in place at hospitals, health systems, and medical practice groups across Virginia. Establishing those links will enable health care providers to refer patients to social service organizations that can provide other supports such as food, transportation assistance, housing, employment services, and more. In turn, participating organizations will be able to refer patients and clients to each other. This interconnected approach also increases the likelihood that vulnerable Virginians will access support services to manage their health conditions and the environmental factors that contribute to them. Data insights gleaned from the integrated technology platform will help state government, providers, and other partners identify critical needs and better focus efforts to serve these Virginians.
“Developing this type of e-referral system has been a longstanding goal of our statewide Partnering for a Healthy Virginia initiative,” said State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “With this funding, we can take the necessary steps to continue our important work on promoting health equity and addressing the social factors that influence individual and community health. This work is more important now than ever because the economic harm and isolation caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been especially hard on vulnerable Virginians.”
“Virginia’s hospital community is committed to the mission of addressing social determinants of health by ensuring that all Virginians have access to care and working to reduce health disparities,” said Sean T. Connaughton, President and CEO of the Virginia Hospital & Healthcare Association. “To that end, our members have worked closely with the Virginia Department of Health on planning for the buildout of this system in the Commonwealth and its key features, such as a two-way communication mechanism between health care providers and community partners. We look forward to full implementation of this program.”
Unite Us provides unifying infrastructure between health care providers and community-based organizations as the foundation for social care transformation at scale. With networks in more than 40 states, Unite Us is the statewide technology platform in North Carolina and the company is developing programs similar to what is planned in Virginia in communities in Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, and South Dakota. In Virginia, Unite Us already powers networks in the Hampton Roads and Shenandoah Valley regions. When fully established, this network will be an integral part of the Commonwealth’s broader public health framework.
“We are ready to work alongside our partners in Virginia to provide both the technology and hyper-local community engagement that will give individuals comprehensive access to the care and services they need,” said Unite Us President Taylor Justice. “Thanks to the leadership of Governor Northam, Unite Us will help mitigate the current effects of the pandemic, build the infrastructure to strengthen connectivity between all care providers, and ultimately help build healthier, more equitable communities.”