An interview with a team of innovators

July 31, 2015

This summer, ACL was named a winner in the HHS Innovates awards for its efforts to link health care and community services. The awards recognize creative solutions developed by HHS employees in response to some of the nation’s most challenging problems in health, health care and government.

Marisa Scala-Foley, ACL’s team lead for business acumen and health IT, leads the program that earned this year’s honors. In today’s post, she answers a few questions about the program, what it has accomplished, and what makes it a great example of innovation.

Q. First, could you please tell us about the program? In a nutshell, what does it do and who does it serve?

Thanks to delivery system reform, health-care providers are looking beyond clinical services to address social issues that affect a person’s health, well-being, and the costs and quality of health care. Providers and payers are looking to collaborate with community-based social services providers, especially when it comes to supporting older adults and people with disabilities. However, because they have been largely grant-funded, many community organizations lack the business expertise needed to contract with health systems. With increased opportunities for integrated care under the Affordable Care Act, it is more important than ever to bridge the gap between health care and community-based long-term services and supports by preparing community organizations to partner with health-care entities.

So in 2013 we (ACL) built a learning collaborative to help community-based aging and disability organizations (CBOs) enhance their ability to contract with integrated health care entities who are seeking to reduce unnecessary hospital and nursing facility admissions and lower overall health-care costs. Through the collaborative, the community providers we work with learn how to build and sell “packages” of services such as nutrition, health promotion programs, transportation and more that meet the needs of health-care providers and most importantly, of individuals and their families.

Q. How does this program help the average person?

In a nutshell, it helps break down barriers between medical and community services, so that older adults and people with disabilities receive coordinated care and have their health and social service needs met in their own homes and communities – where they overwhelmingly prefer to be.

Q. What makes it innovative?

A number of things:

  • We used a new way of providing hands-on technical assistance — through a learning collaborative format that catalyzed action by fostering strong peer-to-peer connections and accountability; capitalized on the expertise among participating networks; emphasized “leaving in action” from all learning opportunities and events, whether in-person or virtual.
  • The program built stronger, better-coordinated connections between local human services providers by supporting more formalized network-building.
  • We also used public-private partnerships to strengthen the opportunities for learning and networking among those in the collaborative. In particular, the John A. Hartford Foundation supported the three in-person meetings of this first collaborative, giving networks the chance to work with their peers, hear their challenges and successes, and develop plans for immediate action steps. The SCAN Foundation convened stakeholder meetings to examine the critical technical assistance needs of CBOs when it came to business capacity. And both the Health Foundation of Western and Central New York and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation in Massachusetts supported individual networks within our collaborative.

Q. Getting down to brass tacks…is the program working? How can you tell?

Yes! By December 2014, the CBO networks within the first collaborative achieved 15 signed contracts with integrated care entities, such as hospitals, health systems, health plans, and physician practices.  This means better linking of health and community services and strengthening departmental delivery system reforms.

Q. What have you learned?

One of the most important things that we’ve learned is about how hard organizational culture change is, but how critical it is to this work – within community-based organizations, within health-care entities, and within ACL itself!

Q. What’s next?

ACL has been so pleased with the results of this initiative that we convened a new Business Acumen Learning Collaborative in 2015, expanding this time to 11 networks of community-based organizations and also emphasizing aging and disability partnerships within those networks. The success of this effort has also led ACL to think about business capacity-building as an agency-wide strategic priority so that we can help the networks that we serve to survive, thrive, and add value to the delivery system reforms happening around the country.

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Last modified on 01/16/2017

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