Affordable housing advocates have been working with legislators for years to craft state policies to meaningfully address housing affordability and access to affordable housing. Without attempting to grade past performance in this area, it is safe to say there is still work to be done in this policy area.

In this fourth installment in our COHO Health Equity series, we spotlight COHO member Trillium Community Health Plan investments to address housing and food security concerns for Oregon Health Plan (OHP) Members that they serve. Trillium Community Health Plan serves the Lane County and Springfield areas, which holds Eugene, a city ranked in the list of Top 10 cities with the biggest housing crunch, but many rural communities Trillium serves are also experiencing the same problem.

Lack of housing availability tends to be thought of as the problem of large metropolitan cities, but the reality is that average rent costs exceed average/median income levels throughout the state, and the inequality is often most pronounced in Oregon rural communities. People also tend to think of COVID-19 in terms of its infection rate, hospital capacity, and availability of personal protective equipment, but it exacerbated many social determinants of health in significant ways.

Massive layoffs combined with the Employment Department’s failure to provide unemployment relief in a timely manner have resulted in loss of income for hundreds of thousands of Oregonians, both widening the disparity between income coming in and rent going out, and amplifying the prevalence of food insecurity for low income families and the working poor.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on African American communities, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, Native American communities, and Latino, Latina, and Latinx communities. These are communities that  already face increased barriers to basic tenets of livelihood and may not have access to some of the resources provided through this pandemic, like the Federal stimulus check of $1,200.

Trillium has long been dedicated to breaking down barriers that cause health inequities by focusing programmatic investments on the social determinants of health, like housing and food security. Because of their experience with addressing social determinants of health, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Trillium was able to quickly identify areas of need in their community and take action to address those needs.

Food Security: 

In response to food security needs, Trillium donated nearly $2,000 worth of Walmart gift cards to a nonprofit organization called Centro Latino that offers a variety of services to families ranging from crisis intervention to job search assistance, and include connecting members with rent assistance. David Saez, Executive Director of Centro Latino said, “Thanks to this donation, we will be able to help children and families who are struggling to get their basic needs met during this difficult time.” 10 other organizations that work with unhoused youth and many others also received a large donation of Wal-Mart gift cards to ensure Oregonians have access to basic necessities.

What about those that do not have access to a Walmart? Trillium recognized that many of their more remote OHP members living in rural areas may not be able to utilize these gift cards. Instead, they distributed about $5,000 worth of Amazon gift cards between six rural, community-based organizations in Oakridge, Cottage Grove, Florence, Reedsport, McKenzie Bridge, and Harrisburg that help to address the needs of those living in rural poverty. Now, Oregonians with access to these gift cards will have the ability to order cleaning supplies, safety gear like masks, and many other necessities while remaining safe in their homes.

Housing Concerns: 

To address housing concerns, Trillium donated $5,000 to Safe Place Family Justice Center, a nonprofit in Clackamas County, Oregon that focuses on providing housing and housing supports for women and families. Because instances of domestic violence are increasing across the nation during COVID-19, and many are in unsafe housing, Trillium also donated $5,000 each to The Relief Nursery & Womenspace, two organizations that aid people in domestic violence situations.

Trillium knows that health is not just seeing your doctor when you are feeling under the weather. The food you eat, the air you breathe, your access to stable housing and food, access to transportation, and whether or not you face discrimination (among many other things) are all factors that significantly contribute to health. By considering these different areas as health care issues, and investing in them, we can increase positive health outcomes for Oregonians and spend less money on health care.

COHO CCOs have strong, aligned policy priorities that seek to decrease barriers and discrimination in health care that help guide our programmatic investments. While our CCOs put policy priorities like breaking down language barriers and increasing housing security into place on the ground, our government affairs team is working hard to pass even more legislation to address health inequities. Our priorities, like promoting social determinant of health spending and instituting protection of those investments, increasing value-based payments to providers, fighting OHP provider reimbursement cuts, and many more, are all part of COHO’s plan to make Oregon’s public health care system a model that people across the nation will look to for guidance.

Join us in ensuring Oregonians have the access to the equitable health care that they deserve.

Thank you Trillium, for leading the way in dismantling health equity barriers in our state.

We are incredibly excited to share the third feature of our health equity series! Last Month, Cascade Health Alliance announced a significant investment in Klamath & Lake Community Action Services (KLCAS), a nonprofit that assists individuals who have been financially impacted by the pandemic. KLCAS’ services to Oregonians include assistance with rental paymentsutility paymentsparenting supports, and more.

Cascade Health Alliance has long been dedicated to breaking down barriers that cause health inequities by focusing programmatic investments on the social determinants of health. These determinants, like stable housing, food security, access to transportation, connection to support systems and community, fit a new idea of what “health” is. This idea of health truly encompasses the full systemic view of a person’s life, and how other factors affect their health.

We know that across Oregon, hundreds of thousands of people have been laid off or furloughed without pay, and therefore have lost their health insurance. Additionally, they may have medical bills from contracting COVID-19, which leaves little to no room to continue to pay rent, buy groceries, and afford basic necessities. Even worse, our unemployment system is falling behind due to the staggering number of claims, leaving many without unemployment insurance for months. In a message from Director Pat Allen of the Oregon Health Authority, he shared that the COVID-19 pandemic has had disproportionate impacts on Black and African American communities, Asian and Pacific Islander communities, Native American communities, and Latino, Latina, and Latinx people in Oregon. When our communities are hurting, it is our job to ensure that they are cared for.

Because Cascade Health Alliance knows that health is more than just ensuring you see your doctor at regular intervals, they made the decision to invest $50,000 in KLCAS so they could continue to provide basic necessities to Oregonians who may not be able to afford them right now. The donation provided by Cascade Health Alliance was used as matching funds by KLCAS to secure an additional $198,738 for rent relief funding through COVID-19 CARES Act funding.

Tayo Akins, Cascade Health Alliance CEO, stated, “There is a tremendous need for organizations like Klamath & Lake Community Action Services right now. With more of our neighbors losing their jobs and uncertain about their futures, now is the time to step up and support agencies that extend a firm hand of relief. KLCAS had been one of them for a long time, and we appreciate their hard work to help those most in need.”

This dedication to dismantling health inequities before, during, and after COVID-19 does not just benefit Oregonians receiving rental assistance, utility assistance, childcare assistance, as well as stellar health care coverage. When we provide the support that Oregonians need to keep them safe and healthy, we save the state and all Oregonians money, because fewer people end up in the Emergency Department.

Have you been wondering how COHO CCOs are able to make quick decisions on dynamic investments in key areas across the State, while still focusing on the needs of their community? COHO CCOs all have strong, aligned, policy priorities that include their dedication to decreasing barriers and discrimination in health care. These policy priorities guide not only our government affairs teams in working with legislators and other public officials on passing legislation that protects Oregonians on the Oregon Health Plan (OHP), but also guides our CCOs in making programmatic investments. We look forward to continuing our health equity series, in which we share the stories of our CCOs working together across the state, to ensure that OHP members are getting the care that they need on the ground, and the advocates they need at the Legislature.

Thank you, Cascade Health Alliance, for continuing to lead the effort in building and maintaining healthy communities! To read Cascade Health Alliance’s press release on the topic, click here.

This Monday, two members of the Coalition for a Healthy Oregon testified to the Senate Health Care Committee on their provider support strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Jeanne Savage, Chief Medical Officer of Trillium Community Health Plan, and Will Brake, the Chief Operating Officer of AllCare Health represented our association to the Senate Health Care committee, sharing succinctly the many different innovative solutions our CCOs have dreamt up to help keep provider doors open through this crisis.

Dr. Savage testified on her perspective as a physician herself, sharing that her role as a provider helped her see the needs in the community, because she saw them in her own practice. She detailed some of the many investments Trillium has made in their community to ensure that providers were able to maintain staffing capacity and see OHP members. Will Brake followed Dr. Savage, detailing the interpreter services delivered by AllCare, and putting an incredible fine point on the fact that AllCare (like many CCOs) also pay providers a monthly rate instead of per-member reimbursement for services.

A few days before the committee hearing, Brian Neuubert, the Legislative Policy and Research Office (LPRO) Analyst for the Senate Health Care Committee reached out to request COHO’s help in finding members of our CCOs to testify on CCO provider supports.

COHO got to work brainstorming a representation that would share both an urban and rural perspective, so legislators could have a clear understanding of what is happening on the ground. Trillium Community Health Plan was excited to share the many ways they have been aiding providers, and identified Dr. Jeanne Savage, both the CMO and a provider that serves Trillium as the perfect person to deliver our message.

AllCare Health was equally excited to join in on the conversation, and helped us determine that Will Brake, the COO and member of the Metrics and Scoring Committee run by OHA, would be another amazing messenger.

Thank you for your willingness to participate, and your wonderful representation of both rural and urban CCOs.

To read more about investments made by Trillium Community Health, click here. To read more about investments made by AllCare Health, click here.