Less than a year after arriving in Iowa, a new community information exchange network plans to expand outreach in the state and connect more social service providers to families seeking assistance.

Sponsored by CyncHealth, the Unite Iowa network uses the shared technology platform Unite Us to host community information exchanges between multiple local-level health and social care providers. The platform is available both to billable health/social services and to nonprofit and grassroots organizations.

“It’s a vision of doing the right thing for people, and making sure that the connections are there and that they’re getting the services they need,” said Melanie Surber, chief clinical officer at CyncHealth, a Nebraska-based health information exchange network.

The Unite Us platform launched in 2013 from New York City and has raised $195 million in capital to date, according to reporting by Fierce Healthcare. The platform is used in 42 states and partners with health care organizations such as CyncHealth to establish the local community information exchanges that sponsors facilitate at a regional level. CyncHealth established Unite Iowa along the state’s western border in 2020, but expansion is coming this summer.

“The one piece we were looking for that the others lacked was the ability to have a collaborative communication space, that one record of everything that was happening in the social determinants of health space so that we could actually work together,” Surber said.  

The Unite Us platform hires community engagement managers for each region, who establish connections with large-area organizations that already have partnerships within multiple communities. Unite Iowa is targeting eight counties surrounding Cedar Rapids and Des Moines to launch on the network in late June, and is expected to be active statewide by late summer 2022.

More than 50 organizations are active members of Unite Iowa networks surrounding the Sioux City region, said community engagement manager Megan Middaugh.

“Everybody who’s doing good needs to be on here. There is no limit to that; there will never be enough resources,” Middaugh said.

By hosting a shared technology platform, service providers on the network can send and receive electronic referrals to any other provider on the network for an individual seeking social services.

The network is designed to speed up responses to client needs: Earlier this year, the Sioux County School District released one referral to multiple partners on behalf of a district student’s family, who lost all their possessions in a house fire. Without having to retell their story to multiple agencies, the referral identified partners to provide furniture, clothing and other services, Middaugh said.

Community engagement managers are able to track the number of active referrals that have or haven’t been addressed by other organizations to ensure those services are met for individuals.

“We’ve focused on working with some of the larger groups first, in partnership with our United Way organizations that have already been in the space and are doing great work, as well as looking at our health system partners who have established relationships,” Surber said. “We’re really trying to be thoughtful of people’s time, knowing that COVID has taken a lot of resources and time right now, and being respectful about working with the right individuals and making the process to join just as easy as possible.”

Virtual training sessions for social services and community organizations interested in joining Unite Iowa are available twice a week. Interested parties may sign up online.