The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced on Thursday, Oct. 1 that it is partnering with United Providers of Health in an attempt to address the unmet health care needs of what the state categorizes as “historically marginalized communities.”

Those are often economically disadvantaged areas where, for various reasons, residents have less access to proper medical care than in other areas.

That’s an important concern even when there’s no pandemic going on. However, at both the local and state level, the pandemic has made the needs of these communities even more apparent. Given the growing concern over the marginalized areas, the new $7 million statewide effort will strengthen the state’s COVID-19 response by providing the targeted communities with preventative health care services, creating connections to mental health supports and helping secure non-medical needs like food and housing.”

United Providers is a network of independent providers that includes behavioral health agencies and primary care physician practices. The group delivers services to underserved individuals with high health care needs.

According to an October 1 press release from the state announcing the new coalition, state officials believe this combination of mental health services and primary care for these challenged communities can “reduce costs, increase quality of care and, ultimately, save lives.”

Communities should start seeing the new services this month.

They’ll be tailored to the needs of historically marginalized populations and will address existing health disparities by delivering what the state is calling “culturally competent care.”

The partnership will also do things like provide counseling to those dealing with the financial uncertainty posed by potential eviction – or the termination of power and water services – by assisting community members coordinate with social services and offering other supports, especially those involved in the COVID-19 response.

A key component will be engaging with “peer support organizations” and Historically Underutilized Businesses that are representative of communities that have been hard hit by the pandemic. Peer support specialists, who are “individuals with lived experience,” play a uniquely impactful role in behavioral health recovery and improved health outcomes. Peer-led organizations are considered to be well-positioned to integrate into and enhance existing NCDHHS efforts like the Hope4NC Helpline (1-855-587-3463) and the Community Health Worker Initiative.