Where Next for Whole Person Care

Thursday, September 7, 2017

By Jim Hickman, CEO, Better Health East Bay; Co-Chair, Bay Area Health Funders Group 

With Labor Day behind us, communities across the nation are heading back to school and work. Congress returns to Washington, DC, this week, too. What would members of Congress write in response to that classic first day of school writing assignment, “What I did on my summer vacation?”

At Northern California Grantmakers, the Bay Area Health Funders Group spent its summer exploring how we can expand local collaborations that embrace a concept of “whole person care.” Although we still face many uncertainties about access and coverage at the national level, the tailwinds from the California Medi-Cal 2020 Demonstration Project will help California remain a pioneer in health care access and innovation for the underserved.

A mix of 25 California counties, cities, and public health systems are engaged in a five year, $3 billion series Whole Person Care (WPC) pilots to better align and coordinate the traditional silos of health, behavioral health, and social services in a patient-centered manner. One of the many important goals is to improve the patients’ health and well-being through more efficient and effective use of resources.

Our recent convening, “Proof Positive: Where Next for Whole Person Care?” brought together experts and implementers from Alameda County Health Services Agency, the California Health Care Foundation, John Snow International, and the San Mateo Health Plan to identify opportunities where philanthropy can accelerate and incubate gains made during these WPC pilot programs.

We asked three questions of our experts and listened in as they described insights, challenges, and opportunities for system change. Here are some of the highlights:

What is the potential of the Whole Person Care Pilots? What is the future vision you’re hoping to see?

  • Bridging gaps in capacity and access across multiple “safety net” systems.
  • Establishing innovative, collaborative financing mechanisms for services like housing, which fall outside the traditional medical model.
  • Disseminating data and patient stories across California that demonstrate where these pilots are succeeding and what we are learning in the process about providing better care at lower cost.

How can funders support this work and advance the broader vision of systems change?

  • Fostering relationship-building between the health system and the “eco-system” of community-based organizations in other sectors already caring for the whole person.
  • Building the capacity of small community-based organizations to participate in partnerships enabled by the technology and data sharing infrastructure in the WPC pilots.
  • Creating a housing subsidy pool, since housing is the most valuable prescription for improving health.

What stood out for you from the conversation?

  • Grant-making foundations have a broader definition of health than health care providers and can bring more sectors into the WPC conversation.
  • California is two years into its five-year pilot. Are the objectives of the WPC pilots realistic? How much can we accomplish in 3 years?
  • Philanthropy can support the near-term goal of making WPC be successful, but also use this as a jumping off point to pursue a larger and longer term vision of system change.

Our Bay Area Health Funders Group members ended the afternoon by asking for more ways to come together think “big” about collaboration and collective impact. Next up: The Intersection of Health and Housing. We’ll keep you posted on this topic and others as we identify simple, practical changes in care delivery we can support with local philanthropy to drive greater health and wellness.