The Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services has just used, for the very first time, a new communication and referral system – NC CARE360 – to help an evicted county resident find new housing.

County and state officials expect that person to be the first in a long line of people who’ll be helped by the new system.

That Guilford County resident, who was facing immediate eviction after her home was condemned, was able to find the new housing with the help of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services through the new system that was put into place across North Carolina earlier this year.

NCCARE360 is a new statewide communication platform that’s designed to make it much easier for health and human service providers to communicate in real-time and securely share client information.  The system allows private-sector aid and support organizations, along with state and local government agencies, to send and receive secure electronic referrals for clients.  It also allows them to track the outcomes of those clients.

A joint program of the NC Department of Health and Human Services and the Foundation for Health Leadership and Innovation, NCCARE360 is an attempt to help solve many health issues by addressing factors such as housing and diet – things that, until recently, have been treated as somewhat peripheral to health care.

More and more, however, the Guilford County Health Department, other county departments, and state health officials are treating things like access to healthy food, safe and affordable housing and even holding well-paying jobs, as important factors that improve health and decrease health care costs in the state.

This type of wide reaching interagency communication across the public and private sector – and treating the “whole person” and his or her circumstances – is a new model of health care that’s rapidly taking hold in Guilford County.  For instance, the Guilford County Health Department is expanding a program that sends mobile chefs into the community to put on healthy cooking demonstrations. And Guilford County is also in the process of implementing a major new model of mental health care that addresses the whole person including his or her physical health and living conditions.

Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright said late last year that this change in mental health care is something that’s been needed for a very long time.

“This is a completely new service model,” he said. “It is a fully integrated model – a more holistic and integrated approach, and there will be a clearly defined portal of entry.”

Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips said at that time that Mandy Cohen, the secretary of the NC Department of Health and Human Services, was particularly energetic about Guilford County’s attempt at more holistic care and more communication.

“Nobody’s doing what we’re going to do and I didn’t really know this at the time but integrated health is pretty much the focal point of Human Services under Mandy Cohen’s watch,” Phillips said late last year.

Guilford County Health Director Merle Green said this week that NCCARE360 is a major improvement that should lead to much better communication between agencies and should make a real difference in people’s lives.

She said this first case is an indication of how helpful the new system can be.

“The previous system was effective in its day, but now, with a more comprehensive effort addressing the social determinants of health, we needed a more robust system than we had in the past,” Green said. “Using NCCARE 360, we were better able to connect a resident in a crisis situation to services that she needed immediately.”

In that process, Guilford County’s public health workers submitted the resident’s referral through the NCCARE360’s referral feature, which in turn distributed the information to three different housing agencies.  Within two hours of the submission, one of the agencies – in this case, the Salvation Army – accepted the resident and enrolled her in a shelter and housing program.

According to information from the county, NCCARE360 – the state’s first statewide coordinated care network – is “designed to serve as North Carolina’s core infrastructure as the state transitions to whole person health and health systems.”

Guilford County is part of NCCARE360’s initial soft launch.  Alamance and Rockingham counties are also part of that initial launch phase.  It’s expected that NCCARE360 will be available in every North Carolina county by Dec. 31, 2020.

The platform is open to all North Carolinians, health systems, payers and providers.  It includes an integrated resource database, website, call center and care coordination platform for clinicians, social workers, care coordinators, families and others that connect people to the community resources they need.