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Milwaukee Housing Program May Have Direct Impact on Improving Health

Being a mother to an infant is never easy. For Milwaukee resident Shenell Anderson, the prospect of being homeless made the situation nearly unmanageable.

After recovering from a difficult C-section procedure and taking a leave from work due to severe anxiety, Shenell found out she and her two young children would need to find a new place to live.

Her anxiety was at an all-time high when a representative from UnitedHealthcare reached out about a pilot program — an opportunity that would change her life.

An initiative to improve public health, UnitedHealthcare’s myConnections program helps Medicaid recipients who have persistent health problems and exhibit high utilization of emergency room and hospital services. Specifically, it provides participants with housing along with wrap-around health and social services that improve their well-being while lowering utilization of costly health care services. 

“If someone is struggling with homelessness and finding a place for their family to live, they just don’t have the capacity to focus on their health,” said Ellen Sexton, CEO, UnitedHealthcare Community of Plan of Wisconsin. “If we can help them get to a comfortable, stable point, it becomes much easier and efficient to address and care for ongoing health concerns.”

As of December 2019, there were 14 participants in the myConnections program in Milwaukee and the results have been encouraging. Almost every participant has had a significant reduction in both inpatient stays and ER visits. Six months prior to being in the program, the participants had a combined 42 inpatient overnight stays. Six months after joining the program, they had a total of eight inpatient stays. Cumulatively, they had 32 emergency department visits over the same period, compared to 149 visits over the six months prior to joining the pilot.

Shenell was among the first pilot participants in Milwaukee. She was suffering from frequent panic attacks, calling 911 and regularly seeking out care in emergency rooms. A UnitedHealthcare representative reached out to Shenell after noticing her numerous 911 calls and helped her enroll in the  myConnections program.

Wisconsin is one of several states with an active myConnections program, helping up to a dozen people at a time on a rotating basis.

UnitedHealthcare connected Shenell with the Milwaukee County Housing Division, a partner in the myConnections program, helping her identify several housing options.

“You can pick wherever you want to go,” Shenell said.

In addition to covering her rent and utility costs, the program provides Shenell the resources to take yoga classes, visit a nutritionist and go to counseling, the latter of which had a significant impact. Her experiences uncovered a new passion — Shenell is currently pursuing a master’s degree in marriage and family counseling.

After transitioning out of the pilot program, Shenell was offered the opportunity to speak in front of an audience of UnitedHealthcare leadership and staff about her experience. She impressed the room so much that she received a job offer to work as a community health worker at UnitedHealthcare. She gratefully accepted and is now helping clients find assistance related to housing and other support channels, such as access to transportation and food banks.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in the myConnections program,” Shenell said. “It helped me achieve stability in my life and has provided opportunities to advance my life both personally and professionally. My hope is that other people facing similar challenges to what I experienced are able to get similar assistance.”