Whether sewing masks for frontline workers, volunteering at a food bank or making financial donations, neighbors are supporting each other in ways large and small. Companies too are stepping up — building on their commitments to corporate social responsibility to find ways to provide support.
“With COVID-19, many people and communities are struggling in different ways,” said Graham McLaughlin, vice president of social responsibility at Optum. “Working with partners across the health system and non-profits of all stripes, we are deploying our assets, our data and our capabilities in very thoughtful ways to make an impact.”
Optum and UnitedHealth Group have moved quickly to respond to the pandemic to ensure the safety of employees and clinicians, to provide support for members and patients, and to tap resources to assist the community at large.
“On the macro level, our focus continues to be on our mission, how do we help people live healthier lives?” said McLaughlin. “On a micro level, we are seeing countless people who want to help by volunteering their skills or time.”
Community support: Small gestures and large investments
For Optum and UnitedHealth Group, fulfilling the mission is taking the form of both small gestures and large investments.
For example, when the pandemic first hit in Washington state, Optum team members reached out to patients to make sure they were okay. It turns out many needed supplies like toilet paper and Optum team members and clinicians took steps to get them what they needed, including in some cases even delivering the supplies themselves.
“These gestures were a way to simply let patients know they are not alone and that we care about them,” said McLaughlin.
On a larger scale, the company changed policies to make sure members could afford COVID-19 treatments, expanded virtual visit capabilities and allowed free access to tools like Sanvello, an app for dealing with stress and anxiety.
Sanvello app for stress and anxiety
As food insecurity became a concern, UnitedHealth Group directed a portion of its $70 million investment in COVID-19 relief efforts toward tackling this issue.
In Minnesota, the company transitioned some of its office cafeterias to serve thousands of free meals each week. That had the added benefit of helping food service workers employed in those cafeterias.
Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, a partner in this effort, said the help is much needed and much appreciated. The organization is seeing a dramatic spike in need.
“In some cases, our partners are telling us requests have more than doubled in just the last week,” said O’Toole.
Supporting those who support others
Important aspects of corporate social responsibility are about supporting a company’s own employees. For health care companies during COVID-19, it’s critical.
“We are supporting all of our team members because they are the ones supporting others,” said McLaughlin.
Optum and UnitedHealth Group are implementing safety protocols for staff, ensuring they have enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and taking care of some of their physical needs like delivering meals.
They’ve also rolled out a support network designed as a one-stop shop for health questions, emotional health resources and even crisis management for issues like housing and food insecurity.
To support the volunteer spirit of employees, Optum created a redeployment website that enables departments and individuals to step up and say, “How can I serve?” It’s allowed folks qualified to help to take on new roles. For example, an employee in a sales office, who happens to be a trained EMT, asked where he could serve.
“The response is unbelievable; everyone wants to help, from MDs in administrative positions to salespeople,” said McLaughlin. “People are joining together to serve others, one person at a time, which is really our culture in action. It’s beautiful to see.”
The call to serve is what prompted Optum CEO Andrew Witty to take a temporary leave to co-lead the World Health Organization’s efforts to develop a coronavirus vaccine.
As the pandemic evolves, so too will the role the company plays, not only in the support of employees and communities, but also in how it can improve the health system overall, said Steve Griffiths, head of Enterprise Analytics at Optum.
“Our teams are working around the clock with each other, and with our partners, to bring the most advanced analytics and comprehensive data to this crisis,” said Griffiths. “It’s our mission that drives us forward every day and it’s our people who make it all happen.”