Due to the increased need for access to social service resources during the COVID-19 pandemic, Highmark Inc., Allegheny Health Network (AHN) and Gateway Health are implementing an online social care network, Aunt Bertha, which serves as a referral tool for urgent needs. Aunt Bertha connects people to resources that can assist with addressing needs such as food, housing and transportation, and is available to all members and patients served across Pennsylvania, Delaware, West Virginia and nationally.
"At this critical time, we understood the importance of fast-tracking our implementation of the Aunt Bertha tool," said Dan Onorato, executive vice president, Highmark Health. "Connecting those in need of food, housing and other resources to social service agencies that can address those needs is a priority for Highmark."
According to Onorato, the organizations have been working to launch Aunt Bertha but accelerated the process because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgent social needs of the community.
“Gateway Health has a long-standing commitment of caring for the total health and wellbeing of communities we serve,” said Glenn Pomerantz, M.D., senior vice president of Health Services, Gateway Health. “This is especially true in light of the unprecedented challenges that many of our members across Pennsylvania currently face. We are pleased to provide them with this new, easy-to-use resource as a way to quickly search for neighborhood resources that help address various social determinants of health.”
This additional tool builds on Gateway’s existing channels, such as the Community Resource Connection, which provide members with information about helpful support services in their area.
Thousands of nonprofits and social care providers serve their communities, but for many, navigating the system to get help can be difficult, time consuming and frustrating, especially during a time of heightened confusion and stress. Aunt Bertha allows users to find nearby community benefit organizations (CBOs)—making it easier for people to access social services in their neighborhoods, for nonprofits to coordinate their efforts, and for healthcare providers to integrate social care into their work.
The Aunt Bertha directory contains geographic-specific information on social service agencies and CBOs across the United States. COVID-19 specific resources also will be listed on the Aunt Bertha site. Once a zip code is entered, online users can filter for specific needs. There are no income restraints or financial cost to use Aunt Bertha. In addition to public access, providers, social workers and care coordinators across the Highmark, AHN and Gateway Health enterprise can access information and recommend services.
"Even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, we're seeing people all across the country join together to help their neighbors navigate this stressful time," said Aunt Bertha Founder and CEO Erine Gray. "We're honored to be partnering with the teams at Highmark, AHN and Gateway Health, and we continue to be impressed with their innovative approaches to helping their members and patients."
Aunt Bertha can be accessed by visiting the Medical and Community Resources page at HighmarkAnswers.com, AHN.org/coronavirus or GatewayHealthPlan.com/coronavirus. These pages will also provide a multitude of COVID-19 response information.
The Aunt Bertha initiative is one of many led by Highmark's social determinants of health (SDOH) task force. While SDOH is considered a relatively new term, Highmark has been addressing social needs that are barriers to good health for decades. In the last five years alone, Highmark has committed nearly half a billion dollars in SDOH-related initiatives, including strategic community partnerships, workforce and economic development and access to care. Most recently, Highmark announced $2 million in grants to organizations focused on helping people in need across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Delaware during the COVID-19 pandemic.