Keeping pace with need: Partnering with states to trace contacts and assist with access

As states issued stay-at-home orders, “Closed due to COVID-19” signs went up in many places, including some HHS offices. With their physical doors locked, state leaders realized they needed a way to keep their virtual doors open to provide access to health care and other life-saving benefits.

States pivoted quickly, continuing to serve the people who rely on them for food assistance, insurance coverage, medical equipment and, in some cases, simple human connection. It’s been a round-the-clock effort on the part of thousands of dedicated state employees, but it’s paying off.

Breaking the chain of transmissions

States are working to quickly gather the information they need to better understand and slow the spread of COVID-19. One solution is contact tracing — the detective-like research aimed at determining who came into contact with an infected person. The goal is to isolate people who may have been exposed.

The pandemic created a need to quickly expand existing contact tracing systems or build new ones. States worked with partners like Optum to stand up new processes in just days.

That included hiring new employees to supplement the workforce and connecting those employees to each other and to the right data and data management tools.

Contact center experts led efforts to train staff on privacy, security and HIPPA protocols along with empathetic and culturally sensitive approaches for dealing with difficult health care situations.

Turning on a dime for those in need

As state employees shifted to home offices, teams here at Optum helped them create alternative work structures, address urgent, necessary changes to software and internal processes and recode benefits systems at lighting speed so service could continue without significant interruption.

States also adjusted their health care and food security eligibility programs. In some cases, this meant extending availability. In others, it meant broadening criteria for benefits, including reversing ineligibility that may have resulted from previous state guidelines. States also compressed their programming schedules from months or weeks into mere days. A handful even chose to reopen health insurance enrollment to offer coverage options to hundreds of thousands of people.

Finding creative ways to “visit”

Social distancing efforts have put many necessary home visits on hold. It’s no surprise; it’s hard to complete a task like a health care eligibility assessment when you can’t walk through a client’s front door.

Assessors needed new and creative ways to connect. States partnered with Optum to reconfigure longstanding protocols and trained team members to perform assessments via telephone and video calls.

Telephonic solutions were created for behavioral and disability assessments. Staff were trained and transitioned to telephones so these critical services could continue. In addition, aging assessments would need to be completed by video. To do this, teams tested the technology with family members first. In some cases, holding numerous virtual meetings at various hours throughout the day and on weekends to ensure the technology would work. The need to get this right was important.

Staying close from far away

For some people who receive state services, stay-at-home orders don’t just threaten the critical care they rely on every day. They also mean isolation and loneliness.

Optum nurses worked with one state’s long-term services and supports team to reduce barriers to treatment and medical equipment, quickly adapting referral and approval procedures so restrictions caused by COVID-19 wouldn’t stop the flow of care.

To address isolation, the Optum state team started a letter writing campaign, sending notes to nursing care residents who were separated from family and loved ones. This simple gesture has raised spirits and delivered priceless smiles for both the residents and their care teams.

Whether making personal connections or clearing technical hurdles, Optum is honored to have the privilege of supporting our health and human services customers. In all cases, the partnerships have shown how a depth of experience in health care can provide the foundation for quick, effective and innovative efforts. And the work is paying off, helping vulnerable citizens during these challenging times. Our doors may be virtual, but we’re all working hard to make sure they stay open to everyone who needs them.

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About the author

Dennis Vaughan

Dennis Vaughan
Chief Executive Officer, Optum State Government Solutions

Dennis Vaughan supports state governments with enabling technologies and services to improve the lives and health care of their citizens. He is a seasoned executive with more than 30 years of experience and commitment to supporting public sector health care. Dennis specializes in managing, operating, and transforming Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program systems.

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