Published On: December 10, 2020

Researchers awarded grant to study COVID-19 response through California Medicaid program

UCLA CHPR received a $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)

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UCLA CHPR Communications Team

Nadereh Pourat, associate director at the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research and professor of health policy and management at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, and Emmeline Chuang, professor at the UC Berkeley School of Social Welfare and director at Berkeley’s Mack Center on Nonprofit and Public Sector Management in the Human Services, have received a $200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The researchers will explore how California counties responded to COVID-19 under the Whole Person Care (WPC) Medicaid Pilot Program.

The grant will expand on efforts to evaluate WPC, a Medicaid program launched in 2016 by the California Department of Health Care Services (DHCS), 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 will look at whether WPC improved health outcomes and service delivery for enrolled patients. WPC findings will be used to inform future efforts by service providers and policymakers to improve Medicaid beneficiaries’ quality of care and health outcomes.

“WPC pilots 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 Pourat, who serves as the lead evaluator of the WPC program under contract with the California DHCS. “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 lock-down.”

“Resources are stretched thin during the pandemic,” said Chuang. “However, many pilots 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. This puts them in a unique position to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Their study is one of five research grants that shared $2 million in new grant awards announced by RWJF through their Systems for Action research program, looking at findings and solutions across health care, public health, and social services during the pandemic. Researchers hope that the findings will provide important insight into how organizations from different sectors work together to improve population health outcomes and health equity in the context of COVID-19.

Under this grant, researchers will examine: (1) changes to WPC Pilot collaborative networks in response to COVID-19; (2) variation across demographic groups in the impact of COVID-19 on WPC enrollment, service utilization, and outcomes; and (3) Pilot-level characteristics associated with improved outcomes for WPC enrollees. The research team will conduct key informant interviews, examine Medi-Cal claims and encounter data, and analyze existing survey data on collaborative partnership networks. The study analyzes data from network surveys, Medicaid claims data, and key-informant interviews to assess program effectiveness from multiple perspectives, and will span two years, ending in November 2022.

Systems for Action is a national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation that aims to discover and apply new evidence about ways of aligning delivery and financing systems across the medical, public health, and social services sectors that support a “Culture of Health.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s mission is to improve health and health care of all Americans and it is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health.