Non-profit soup kitchen Manna Meal, a partner of Unite Us, prepares to serve meals June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia.

The mission to “Unite Us”

As a person experiencing homelessness, Michael Fields’ biggest challenge in addiction recovery was not simply achieving sobriety but finding the social support to maintain it. 

“I ended up back on the street every time, back in drug addiction,” says the 45-year-old West Virginia native who completed several treatment programs. “When you’re in recovery, you have to change everything about your life, or you change nothing.”

Michael’s story illustrates how social determinants of health can directly influence a person’s wellbeing outside a doctor’s office – with factors like affordable housing, food insecurity and education impacting up to 80% of health incomes.

William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) in Charleston, West Virginia.
William Turley does his laundry inside the Peer Center (a drop-in center for individuals experiencing homelessness) on Thursday, June 4, 2020, in Charleston, West Virginia. (Credit: Chris Cone/CVS Health)

To build healthier communities, especially during these unprecedented times where COVID-19 has contributed to massive layoffs and fewer resources for assistance, CVS Health and Unite Us launched a digital social care network in Central West Virginia. It provides essential services around substance abuse and mental and behavioral health. It also addresses other crucial needs such as employment, education, housing and food security.

“As an extension of our traditional plan offerings, we’re helping vulnerable community members access the non-clinical resources they need to improve their everyday health,” says R.J. Briscione, senior director of Social Determinants of Health Strategy & Execution at Aetna, a CVS Health Company.

Aetna, according to R.J. will also make the Unite Us network available to its Medicaid and dual-eligible Medicaid/Medicare customers in the region.

“This network opens up a whole new world to people who have access to limited resources,” says Jim Smallridge, RN, manager, Community Development for Aetna Better Health of West Virginia. “It’s an extension of possibilities for so many people in need.”

Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia.
Amanda sits in the parking lot outside the United Way Drop-in Peer Center in Charleston, West Virginia. She looks forward to the services she will be provided.

Looking toward the future, CVS Health and Unite Us are looking to provide similar networks in Florida, Louisiana, Kentucky and North Carolina.

Today, because he’s found the support he so badly needed through this program, Michael Fields now has greater hope for long-term sobriety. The United Way, a local Unite Us member, helped him apply for housing and food assistance. He’s also applying for a grant that would allow him to attend a local technical college.

“I’m definitely not taking anything for granted. I’m working every day to keep everything I’ve got,” he says. “It isn’t much, but it’s a whole lot more than I’ve had for a long time.”

07.16.20