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Benetech Partners with Health Leads to Repair Bay Area Social Safety Net

November 22, 2017

By Zachary Slobig - Skoll Foundation

We love to see our awardees enter into partnerships that leverage collective strengths to affect large-scale change. It’s even more satisfying when those partnerships are formed by organizations within the Skoll portfolio. Take the recent announcement that Benetech (2006 Skoll Awardee) had teamed up with Health Leads (2011 Skoll Awardee) to make the social safety net in California communities easier to see, and harder to fall through.

The partnership builds on Benetech’s leading social services work with United Way Bay Area and the Open Referral Initiative to improve access to health resource data for Bay Area residents. Though this project focuses on two California communities, Anh Bui, Vice President at Benetech Labs, says these problems are common in cities across the country.

“Every day in every city people struggle to access the services they need to live and prosper,” said Bui. “We can help them by working collaboratively to make information about those services available to all channels that can meet people where they are.”

The safety net is just too hard to see, says Bui. Organizations that make referrals, from ones that run 2-1-1 call centers to state and county governments to libraries and healthcare clinics, are often under-resourced, and swamped, but may spend hundreds of hours per year maintaining the same information in different systems.

“The resulting information landscape is redundant, fragmented, and unsustainable, draining resources that could be used instead to help people in other ways,” said Bui. “We want to break down these shortcomings by introducing a new infrastructure that allows for more accurate, timely, and cost-effective use of social service directory data.”

Benetech partnered with Health Leads for its insight into how service directory information can be maintained and optimized in a healthcare setting—one of the most important places to connect people to social services. Health Leads is at the forefront of a reimagined healthcare system that accounts for the social determinants of health, a system where doctors and other clinicians connect their patients with services that meet essential needs such as food, transportation, and heat.

“We’ll learn the variations and similarities across the different Resource Databases, and work collaboratively to improve how each individual system supports the needs of these communities,” said Mary Carl, Principal of West Coast Partnerships at Health Leads. “This project is bringing together traditionally siloed systems to create best practice which is moving the tools being used to address social determinants of health to a mainstream place in the Bay Area.”

Benetech and Health Leads think this approach could be scaled to municipalities across the country, making the social safety net far more effective at improving lives.

“We plan to take everything we learn in the Bay Area and Sacramento and apply it in cities across the country through a nationwide federation of service information,” said Bui. “With great partners like Health Leads, and with continued support from funders, we’re excited to extend our work from our backyard in Silicon Valley to every community that recognizes the value in helping individuals reach their full potential.”

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