A quiet desk with a big impact

June 01, 2016
“I have never been comfortable asking for help,” said a patient, “but how else can they know you need it? You have to ask.” By walking up to the community resource desk at a Providence clinic in Portland, Oregon, this patient “got the resources I needed; housing and financial help.”

Responding to unmet social needs

Tucking a staffed desk into a quiet corner of a few of its primary care clinics, Providence created a way to link the most vulnerable patients to vital social services. Overwhelming evidence shows that unmet social needs directly contribute to poor health outcomes, and a recent survey of Providence health care providers found that many of them do not have the time or skills to really help. Now, a caregiver can walk with a patient in need directly to the desk to find support in their community. 

Through an investment of nearly $400,000 over two years, more than 1,200 people have received support from the resource desks staffed by specialists from Providence’s community partners Impact NW and Familias en Acción. Anyone can ask for help, regardless of whether they have commercial insurance or are uninsured, on the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid), or even if they are not a Providence patient. The desks serve people from all walks of life and as one patient said “it's discreet, and the experience was respectful.” The specialists also follow up with patients to make sure they have successfully connected to the resources they need.

Finding the right help

Help comes in many forms. Assistance at the resources desks may include finding a food bank near work or home, translation support, or personal help to find solutions for unique needs according to diverse cultures or languages spoken. Not only are people referred to useful resources, but they are also empowered with education to lead healthy lives. For example, a person may discover he or she has Oregon Health Plan transportation support or dental benefits, and learn how to book their own appointments in the future. A person may also use the resource desk to see if they are eligible for services such as low-income housing or food assistance.

Supported by Providence research

Providence’s community health needs assessment helped identify the communities that would most benefit from the resource desks, and our community health improvement plans helped us connect with the right partners. Our innovative research team provides ongoing technical assistance, while they also train community partners how to collect data that helps adjust the program to meet changing needs. 

For more information about the community resource desks, visit the website or email rachel.smith@providence.org.