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Healthcare Providers Working To Combine Social Services And Medical Aid

 A photo of CareSource's Karin VanZant
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CareSource's Karin VanZant.

Karin VanZant has been working at CareSource to help millions of Americans on Medicaid find the care they need through both social services and medical aid.

Karin VanZant spent 20 years as a social worker in Clark County. She was part a system known for bringing different agencies together to serve a single family.

In 2015, she was hired by Dayton-based CareSource, which coordinates care for 2 million Medicaid patients in six states. She found herself familiar ground. For one, there was her clientele.

"Medicaid is the largest safety net program that we have in the United States," said VanZant. "In a state like Ohio that fully embraced Medicaid expansion, that means you can be working full time in a minimum-wage job and still be eligible for Medicaid."

But VanZant said the same clients often need help from social services, too. Which is why she was brought on board.

"So, it kind of started as an interesting idea and a challenge from the CEO and Board to see what we could actually do around helping our Medicaid recipients who were interested in addressing education, housing and employment — and actually see if we could transition them off of Medicaid into employer-sponsored insurance," said VanZant.

The initiative was called JobConnect. And it was just getting off the ground as Chinese manufacturer Fuyao converted the old GM Delphi works into a glass plant. So, the timing was perfect.

"Thinking that we had a really large population of adults on our plan in the greater Dayton area, we started sharing when the job fairs were going to be and the hiring events," said VanZant.

CareSource did not hold the job fairs or start the training programs itself. It instead asked the question managed care organizations always ask.

"How do we leverage the existing social service infrastructure in the same way we leverage the health care structure that's already in a community," said VanZant.

It worked.

"You know the great thing about JobConnect is we’ve engaged over 10,000 Ohioans," said VanZant.

CareSource next step was to clients with agencies that could address their other social service needs: mental and behavioral health, food insecurity, housing and substance abuse. The goal was to create a social service network like its medical network — and with the same purpose: To guide clients to the best providers, so people don’t have to wander through the maze of care on their own. The good news, said Vanzant, is that CareSource has plenty of potential partners.

"The Workforce Boards, the Ohio Association for Foodbanks, large metropolitan housing authorities, our community action agencies, the Federally Qualified Health Care Centers, Headstarts, preschools and public schools that have the highest percentages of low income individuals," said VanZant.

CareSource relationships with its partners will be complicated because of the strict rules that govern federal spending — the kind of well-intentioned red tape that makes people in private sector scream. As challenging as they are, though, those issues don’t cause VanZant to lose sleep at night. Another one sometimes does.

"We know that social programs that work with 50 families can get a lot of traction and have really high impact with those 50 families," said VanZant. "But if you have 50,000 people across the state, how do you replicate that? I call it the billion dollar question is: How do we scale social programs for two things: One, that we keep the quality high, but that we can also afford it — that the business case doesn't break the bank."

And that takes her back to all the years spent with her boots on the ground in Clark County.

"The only answer I've been able to come up with — but I would be completely open to anybody else's ideas — is collaboration," said VanZant.

VanZant and CareSource’s ultimate goal is this: To meld their social service and medical networks into a single institution capable of helping people overcome the well-known institutionalized obstacles to their health and well-being.