By definition, Accountable Care Organizations are networks of physicians and other health-care providers who share financial and medical responsibility for patients. They focus on quality of care, population health management, the patient experience and cost. 

In simple terms, ACOs like the Nebraska Health Network work to make patient care better

At NHN, we are fortunate to have thousands of physicians and advanced practice providers from Methodist Health System, Nebraska Medicine and several independent community clinics to fulfill that mission.

But sometimes, patients have needs that extend beyond their medical care. They may be struggling with housing or food insecurities; they could be out of work or having trouble making ends meet. 

Kaiser Permanente estimates that one-third of Americans struggle with social determinants of health, and with the onset of COVID-19, that number is growing at an alarming rate. According to Feeding America, the number of Americans facing food insecurity is expected to grow to more than 54 million in 2021, compared to 37.2 million in 2018. Since the pandemic started, Pew Research Center estimates that one in four Americans have had trouble paying their bills. 

Unfortunately, we are often hesitant to share our struggles with others. This is especially true of social determinants that often have a stigma associated with them. Recognizing that many of our patients need help, but most are reluctant to talk about those needs with their health-care team, we created a way to empower individuals to find the support they need any time, day or night. 

In March of 2020, NHN launched Community Relay is a social services platform powered by Aunt Bertha that features more than 400,000 free- or reduced-cost services and programs nationwide. Community Relay is free to use. There is no charge for users to search for assistance, nor is there a charge for community benefit organizations and non-profits to be included in the directory. 

Starting with their zip code, individuals can independently search for assistance across 10 support categories: food, housing, goods, health, money, transit, care, education, work or legal. Users can confidentially explore the offerings of local community benefit organizations and reach out for help when they are ready, 24/7. An optional assessment can help users filter their results and identify programs that may be beneficial based on their responses.

Within the ACO, our health-care providers use Community Relay to refer patients to support services. We analyze search trends to identify the greatest areas of community need so that we can work with community benefit organizations to increase their visibility and outreach. 

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