WVU receives Empowering Health grant from UnitedHealth to address underserved communities

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — WVU will be continuing efforts to support low income and uninsured families with the help of a new public-private partnership.

UnitedHealthcare is awarding a $250,000 via an Empowering Health grant to West Virginia University which will go towards research to expanding healthcare access to uninsured individuals and underserved communities around the North Central West Virginia region. This grant is aimed to address individual care for various needs ranging from local health promotion to health literacy.

“We are working through this grant and WVU to help close those gaps in care, for those people, for those in West Virginia, who are most vulnerable,” said UnitedHealth Group Mid-Atlantic Region Vice President of Sales Marianne Randazzo regarding the grant.

The Empowering Health grant, will help expand a study currently being conducted by WVU in which they provide and test various online tools, to assist individuals and families who are experiencing challenges from food insecurity, social isolation and behavioral health issues. These tools would include interventions, gamified solutions and chatbots that would allow for those who are unable to go to the hospital for whatever reason, to get services that could help improve the health of individual.

“The use of remotely delivered and centralized electronic applications, apps on your phone, or other online web based platforms that people can use that are known to work,” said WVU Director of Injury Control Research Center Dr. Robert Bossarte elaborating on the program. “(Electronic Applications) have been studied, have been demonstrated to be effective but have not yet necessarily been tested with these populations,” he said.

This research is part of an expanded effort by both WVU and UnitedHealthcare to improve access to healthcare to underserved communities. For WVU, efforts that originally started with free dental care for uninsured individuals as well as other programs to improve healthcare access, has expanded due in part to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now with the Empowering Health grant, the goal is to continue with improving those services to underserved communities that are unfortunately common in West Virginia.

“We’re really talking about behavioral healthcare, and we’re talking about it in a couple of ways,” Bossarte explained on WAJR’s Talk of the Town. “One it is just the availability of specialized behavioral health providers which is a challenge in rural states and rural areas in West Virginia,” he said.

For UnitedHealthcare, a subsidiary of the United Health Care group, this is part of half a billion dollar effort to work with underserved communities that started in 2011, that started as investments in affordable housing communities, food banks and meal-delivery services. With the Empowering Health program, it continues their over $40 million investment in community-based organizations in 29 states, which have served over six million people in those partnerships. With this new partnership, WVU and UnitedHealth hope that underserved communities can be improved with new services.

“We issued more than forty million in grants to address needs such as this and impacted more than six million people, so we’re very grateful frankly for the opportunity to work with WVU, for this grant in West Virginia,” said Randazzo on the Empowering Health grant.