Newsroom | Community Health

Cultivate Collective leadership, elected officials, community members and non-profit partners gather during the ribbon-cutting to open the wellness hub located in southwest Chicago.

Supporting Solutions That Meet Hyperlocal Needs

Health needs are often very different from one community to another — and addressing them demands the unique experience and expertise of the people and organizations working at the hyperlocal level.

That’s why one of the strategic focus areas of Health Care Service Corporation’s major grant program is locally defined health solutions. The program awarded more than $9 million in 2023 to community organizations to support work targeting social and economic factors that influence health. 

In Texas, HCSC provided a $25,000 grant to the Rural Telepsych for Youth program at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry. Through the investment, the program will help continue reducing barriers to mental health care for young people in rural areas, many of whom must drive hours to visit their nearest provider.

Nearly all of Texas’ counties have been designated as mental health professional shortage areas, according to the state Department of Health Services. And nearly three-quarters of youth with major depression did not receive mental health treatment, according to Mental Health America’s 2023 State of Mental Health report.

Launched in 2022, TTUHSC El Paso offers telepsychiatry sessions to residents of 15 West Texas counties. It supplements two state programs that provide limited services, offering children who need additional mental health treatment up to 12 additional telepsychiatry sessions.

“Our goal with Rural Telepsych for Youth is to ensure that rural communities are no longer isolated in terms of mental health struggles and access to mental health care,” says Dr. Peter Thompson, chair of TTUHSC El Paso’s Department of Psychiatry. “We hope to continue cultivating programs like this that break barriers so children are receiving the help they need long before mental health conditions impact their development, while also empowering communities to reduce stigmas and advocate for their health care.”

Montana is facing its own youth mental health crisis and a severe shortage of mental health professionals.

The state’s youth suicide rate continues to climb and, over the past decade, has been the second-leading cause of death for children and young people ages 10-24, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services’ annual suicide report.

To help identify and get help for children and teens with mental health needs, HCSC’s Montana health plan invested $50,000 in the Montana Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (MTAAP) to fund evidence-based behavioral health training for up to 45 Montana pediatricians and primary care providers for three years.

“Access to care includes having the most up-to-date information,” says Clarita Santos, HCSC’s executive director corporate and civic partnerships. “Supporting our pediatricians through evidence-based training equips them with the knowledge needed to identify, diagnose and treat behavior health needs for our kids. You cannot address a need effectively without updated knowledge.”

Since 2017, Oklahoma’s homeless population has declined overall. But in the state’s largest city, Oklahoma City, the chronically homeless population is rising, making up 61% of the unsheltered population, according to a recent point-in-time count.

City Care OKC’s night shelter is open seven days a week, 365 days a year from 6 p.m. to 7 a.m. Each night guests fill the shelter’s 140 beds, many of whom are recently discharged from the hospital and need continuous care for bed sores, mobility issues, open wounds and other problems.

The Oklahoma Health plan recently awarded City Care OKC with a $60,000 grant to invest in the nonprofit’s medical respite work. The funds will help pay to train managers and housing navigators, buy bandages and other medical supplies and equipment as City Care works to build a new respite center it plans to open in 2025.

Each person who enters the shelter meets with an intake coordinator to complete a needs assessment. The goal is to help individuals take steps toward securing housing, employment, and medical and behavioral health needs.

“We offer people a chance to get back on their feet when they’re at rock bottom,” says Staci Sanger, City Care’s chief development officer. “Once basic needs like shelter and food are met, we see that people have the stability to heal.”

In Illinois, HCSC is supporting a first-of-its-kind health hub that addresses social health needs and focuses on creating a healthy, sustainable future for underserved people on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Cultivate Collective purchased a 6-acre plot of land on the former LeClaire Courts public housing site equipped with a wellness center to reduce health inequities, a public school, urban farm and more.

The nonprofit partnered with Esperanza Health Centers to launch a federally qualified health care center on-site with an emphasis on supporting un- or under-insured groups.

Another component of the 71,000-square-foot project is a new home for the Academy for Global Citizenship, a public PreK-8th grade school whose model is rooted in whole-child wellness and nature-based learning. The new building unites AGC’s approximately 600 students that were previously within two separate facilities.

Next year, they’re also opening a 3-acre urban farm that will supply fresh produce for the school, neighboring public housing residents, and surrounding community. Food grown on-site will be sold at affordable prices at the Community Fresh Food Store and Farm Café, two neighborhood-run social markets.

Developers hope the community hub will achieve an international certification called the Living Building Challenge to become recognized as one of the most sustainable buildings in the country.

“Our mission is to unite health and wellness, sustainability, economic vitality, and multi-generational learning to cultivate resilient and thriving communities,” says Sarah Elizabeth Ippel, CEO of Cultivate Collective. “We’re grateful to partners like Blue Cross and Blue Shield that have enabled us to expand wellness programming and increase access to vital services such as fresh food and health care in order to ensure a more equitable future for all Chicagoans.”

Rural Vision Screenings

HCSC’s work addressing the health needs of local communities also extends to rural New Mexico, where it works with New Mexico Lions Operation KidSight to provide eye screenings to children across the state.

The nonprofit received a $25,000 grant to continue providing eye exams and glasses to students 3-7 years old.

Last year, HCSC also donated a Ford E450 Chassis, complete with a custom body and interior, to New Mexico Lions Operation KidSight. The vehicle was part of HCSC’s mobile care program before the New Mexico health plan retired it in April 2023.

After years of partnering to provide eye exams, the program is now equipped with its own mobile eye clinic to travel to schools across the state offering vision screenings during school hours and testing for potential vision concerns such as near-sightedness, far-sightedness and astigmatism.

Eventually, Operation KidSight hopes to travel with an optometrist who will offer eye exams and prescriptions, says Program Manager Brenda Dunn.

“If students can’t see, they can’t learn,” Dunn says. “Without this donation, it would be another five years at least, before we could purchase a vehicle to provide these needed services.”

Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company.