UCLA and UC Berkeley researchers have been awarded a $200,000 grant to explore how California counties are responding to COVID-19 under a Medicaid pilot program, it was announced Thursday.

The grant will expand on efforts to evaluate Whole Person Care, a Medicaid program launched in 2016 by the California Department of Health Care Services, which aims to provide coordinated health care and social services for patients with complex needs, such as those who are homeless, have mental health and chronic conditions, or have been recently incarcerated.

Researchers at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare will look at whether WPC improved health outcomes and service delivery for enrolled patients. Findings will be used to inform future efforts by service providers and policymakers to improve Medicaid beneficiaries’ quality of care and health outcomes.

“WPC (pilot programs) played a significant role in many California counties’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic by helping them leverage cross-sector relationships and resources such as outreach providers and housing services,” said Nadereh Pourat, associate director at the UCLA Center and professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

“The program targets many at-risk populations, including those who are homeless and needed shelter or with complex conditions and needed extra support during the lockdown,” said Pourat, who serves as the lead evaluator of the WPC program under contract with the California DHCS.

Emmeline Chuang, professor at the UCB School of Social Welfare and director at Berkeley’s Mack Center on Nonprofit and Public Sector Management in the Human Services, said resources have been stretched thin during the pandemic.

However, many pilot programs “have spent the last several years as a part of WPC, developing the necessary data infrastructure and multidisciplinary teams to successfully communicate and coordinate care across sectors,” Chuang said.

“This puts them in a unique position to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic,” she added.

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