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United Way of Lancaster County


PA 211 is exploring collaboration opportunities with PA Navigate

Kate Zimmerman, President & CEO of United Way of Lancaster County, welcomes participants at the 211 Day Summit at St. Joseph’s University on Friday, Feb. 9, 2024. (Photo: Tyler Wegert)

A year ago, at the 2023 211 Day Summit, United Way of Lancaster County demonstrated a pilot closed-loop referral system that it hoped eventually to expand statewide.

“Closed-loop” means that when an organization makes a referral, it receives feedback telling it what happened: Did the client make the connection? Was service provided? Was the problem resolved?

It was a visionary idea, United Way of Lancaster County President Kate Zimmerman said at Friday’s 211 Day Summit — and that means United Way wasn’t the only entity trying to implement it.

Last month, state Human Services Secretary Dr. Val Arkoosh announced the launch of PA Navigate, a closed-loop referral system developed with $15.5 million in federal pandemic funds.

In light of that development, United Way and PA 211 have elected to pivot, Zimmerman said Friday.

“We don’t need to create something ourselves if the work’s being done on a Commonwealth level with partners whom we respect,” she said. “So we’re going to support the existing work instead of going out on our own.”

PA Navigate is designed to integrate with health providers’ electronic medical records, allowing doctors to make referrals for social services like housing or food through a patient’s chart. When nonprofits acknowledge the referral and provide updates, the chart would update automatically.

United Way and PA 211 leaders are already in conversation with state officials about how PA 211 and PA Navigate can work in concert and complement each other, Zimmerman said.

That includes potential “technology and data integration,” said United Way of Pennsylvania President Kristen Rotz. Besides its comprehensive social service listings, the 211 system generates data on community needs that could be incorporated with other state statistics to enhance understanding of population health needs.

There’s also discussion about providing “person-to-person navigation support” to complement the PA Navigate web portal, Zimmerman said.

That’s the key element that 211 has always had: Resource navigators. PA Navigator, conversely, has been built out purely as an IT portal. As Zimmerman put it, with PA 211, “You get a human being who will walk with you in your most vulnerable times.”

“We’re not stepping away from that,” Rotz emphasized. People need that person-to-person touch, and 211 will be there to provide it.

More information will be forthcoming as the details get hammered out and the relationship between the two systems takes shape, Zimmerman said.

Said Rotz: “We believe very much that PA Navigate and PA 211 have a lot of different ways to partner together.”