Historically, healthcare systems and social safety net providers have worked in parallel to provide care to their constituents. There have been many instances of cross-pollination and mutual support, but this is not the norm, nor is it done in a manner that significantly enhances the value to all involved parties. The need for collaboration in a meaningful way is paramount if our goal is to impact health inequities and improve behavioral health needs significantly. However, having the government be the deliverer of services in certain areas, to specific populations, while the private sector focused on others, is fraught with a silo mentality on both sides.
If we are going to work together for the betterment of all, traditional health systems have the potential to enhance the functions of the social net system. Additionally, social net providers must realize they do not work in a vacuum and are not competing with health systems. And unfortunately, this dynamic plays out presently in the desire to receive needed governmental funding. Both programs need to consider, the mutual benefit of coordination that will enhance the ability of all to deliver needed care within our present financial models.
Since safety net programs spend a great deal of energy on finding those that meet requirements for their services, and health systems benefit when their patients are enrolled in such programs, it behooves health systems to focus on how they support enrollment. Presently, only a minor portion of those eligible for services receive them. Health Systems interact with these individuals and have the potential to aid in their application process through both identification and support during the administrative process. Furthermore, between them, exists a trusting relationship and that support may be leveraged for the betterment of both parties.
In addition, support of the safety net programs by health systems is essential. Yes, funding may exist; however, the knowledge and ability to manage the programs may be enhanced with support from health systems that contain the human capital resources. The safety net programs must be willing to accept such coordination. Additionally, coordination may occur in developing best practices based on evidence that must reside in research. It’s clear that knowledge from data sharing within this realm will lead to enhanced programs that deliver greater care to those in need.
Finally, health systems can advocate for social issues that impact safety net providers and provide advocacy for the organizations themselves. Historically, health systems have focused on delivering services within their models; no doubt excellent yet may have missed an incredible opportunity. Advocacy not only enhances the messaging, it also builds trust between organizations. Let us work together to improve the care for all.