In 2019, Joyce Bigelow—a member of Kaiser Permanente in Vancouver, Washington—spent 3 months living in her truck with her dog, occasionally parking in a church parking lot to sleep in the back seat. At 85 years old, this nurse and former counselor recently lost her mobile home due to difficult circumstances. “I never imagined I would be homeless,” Bigelow said.

When her doctor, Juan Munoz Oka, learned she was homeless, he connected her to Maki Akiyama, a social health navigator at Kaiser Permanente.

Kaiser Permanente care teams include navigators like Akiyama and others in similar roles who work with patients to identify their social needs. By understanding the social factors that affect health—such as having a safe place to live, earning enough money to pay bills, having enough food to eat, and being able to meet an individual’s basic needs—they can help with referrals, communication, and follow-up to ensure continuity of care.

Akiyama put Bigelow in touch with local resources to help her find temporary housing and worked with the Vancouver Housing Authority to provide Bigelow with a Section 8 voucher, which helps extremely low-income families, the elderly and the disabled afford safe housing. Within 3 months, Bigelow had moved into a permanent home.

“Between Mackie and Dr. Joanne, here I am,” Bigelow said. “Emotionally, I am relaxed. I have a place. My dog ​​is safe.” She is grateful to have a place to call home.

do you need help? Explore the community resource guide

The Bigelow experience is just one example of how Kaiser Permanente supports the holistic health of our members and the communities we serve by connecting people in need with community organizations and resources.

In 2021, as part of a broader national effort to address social health needs, Kaiser Permanente launched the Community Resource Directory, an online self-service platform that provides free, fast access to a growing database of organizations, programs, and services.

Anyone in need can find a wide range of resources that can be filtered by zip code, type of service, and other criteria to support necessities such as food, housing, bill payments, childcare, and transportation.

For additional assistance in contacting resources, people can call a dedicated phone line — 1-800-443-6328 — to speak with a resource professional who can provide assistance.

Anand Shah, Vice President of Social Health at Kaiser Permanente, has heard several success stories such as Bigelow’s about connections made through Kaiser Permanente doctors, an online community resource directory, and a phone line.

“People are worried about the basics – food, rent, utilities,” said Dr. Shah. Support requests continue to grow and we expect to see the need increase, especially with the holidays approaching. While the holiday is meant to be fun, it is also a difficult time for many in need. It is very important to provide additional support whenever and wherever we can.”

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