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Protecting the Most Vulnerable

Kaiser Permanente Northern California connects homeless individuals to vital resources during COVID-19. Pictured, Sacramento Covered community health workers preparing hot meals for homeless communities during the pandemic, an initiative funded by Kaiser Permanente.

She was homeless and facing serious mental health issues, substance abuse, and domestic violence. And then came COVID-19.

Three months later, the transgender Sacramento woman is “ecstatic” to have a permanent home and for completing a substance abuse program thanks to a newly implemented Kaiser Permanente Northern California COVID-19 strategy that helps protect vulnerable communities.

The Kaiser Permanente member, who asked not to be named, is among thousands of Northern Californians experiencing homelessness, a population twice as likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19, up to 4 times as likely to require critical care, and 2 to 3 times more likely than a stably housed person to die from the virus, according to a recent study by the National Alliance to End Homelessness.

“Data demonstrates that unhoused people are disproportionally affected by negative health outcomes,” said Angela Jenkins, director of Strategic Initiatives for Kaiser Permanente Northern California. “The Kaiser Permanente perspective is that housing is a health issue, and we are here to ensure people get shelter, long-term housing, and the supportive services they need.”

Rapid Response

Hundreds of unsheltered people have been placed in temporary or permanent housing and linked to vital resources after visiting a Kaiser Permanente facility since the pandemic hit in March.

As part of Kaiser Permanente Northern California’s pandemic response, an extensive network of COVID-19-specific resources was developed at each of Kaiser Permanente’s 15 service areas from Fresno to Santa Rosa to help connect homeless individuals and families to housing, food, transportation, and financial services along with mental health support.

Patients who come into a facility are screened for social needs through the electronic medical record, KP HealthConnect. If identified as homeless, individuals are connected to public or community-based resources that can meet their specific situation.

“The Kaiser Permanente perspective is that housing is a health issue, and we are here to ensure people get shelter, long-term housing, and the supportive services they need.”

“Protocols instituted in the Emergency Department and hospitals to screen unsheltered patients and address their unique needs are critical in our efforts to address the public health emergency,” said Vidya Iyengar, executive director for Kaiser Permanente Northern California Medi-Cal Strategy and Operations. “For many vulnerable individuals who need additional support, we have ensured a warm handoff to a case manager or community and county program.”

All homeless patients are also tested for COVID-19. Those who test positive or who have been exposed to an infected person are placed in housing where isolation is possible. A portion of this work has been in collaboration with the state as part of Project Roomkey, which has secured hotel rooms for over 15,000 homeless individuals throughout California since the pandemic began.

After the patient is discharged from Kaiser Permanente, a clinical care professional conducts a follow-up to determine additional needs and if previously offered resources were used or helpful.

Can’t Do It Alone

Kaiser Permanente partners with many community nonprofits and city and county agencies to build a stronger and more coordinated homeless response system to improve the health of our communities.

“Our work would not be possible without partnerships like Kaiser Permanente’s that link us to resources, funding, and clinical expertise,” said Kelly Bennett, CEO of Sacramento Covered, a nonprofit that coordinates services for vulnerable families and individuals.

Bennett said Kaiser Permanente helped fund an initiative that delivered over 20,000 hot meals to the nonprofit’s unhoused clients and supplied personal protective equipment to its community health workers in the field.

Looking ahead, Iyengar explained that Kaiser Permanente Northern California is focused on renewed efforts to address the lack of housing resources, which have been exasperated by the pandemic.

“There are existing and new emerging housing needs, which we know with COVID-19 and the economic downturn are only going to increase,” she said. “Homelessness is not a new problem, and it’s one the organization is always trying to solve.”

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community healthCOVID-19Thrive
This Post Has 6 Comments
    1. Hi Jeana. Thank you very much for your interest in Sacramento Covered. To reach out to the organization, you can call 916.414.8333 or leave a message here.

  1. “Kaiser Permanente partners with many community nonprofits and city and county agencies to build a stronger and more coordinated homeless response system to improve the health of our communities.” I have a nonprofit that provides outreach to people experiencing homelessness in Sacramento and have requested assistance from KP, but have not been able to get any. As this article states, the homeless are the most vulnerable, and their impact on the healthcare system, should there be a massive coronavirus outbreak within homeless encampments, would be devastating. Hopefully, someone who reads/monitors this comment can connect me with the right person who will be able to help. Thank you.

    1. Hi Jessica. Thank you for your comment. I will be happy to connect you to our Community and Government Relations Manager offline. I will connect you via email.

  2. This is so encouraging to hear! Housing is a health issue and with all the bad news about the virus it is wonderful what KP is doing. So proud to be an employee.

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