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Alliance for Better Health Leads Collaborative Effort to Distribute Smart Thermometers to Keep Community Workers—and Those They Serve—Safe

Alliance for Better Health (Alliance) recently announced that it is leading a collaborative effort to secure and distribute approximately 7,500 smart thermometers to community-based organizations (CBOs) and the community members they serve in New York's Capital District. The ultimate goals are: 1) to provide much-needed thermometers to social and behavioral health service organizations, and 2) for the individuals who work in these organizations to monitor their own temperatures―providing public health leaders insight into the status of our community's health and the status of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

The internet-connected thermometers, produced by Kinsa Health, include a patient-facing mobile app that prompts users to enter symptoms they may be experiencing while also monitoring their temperature and providing basic advice about whether they should seek medical attention. A recent New York Times article says, "Kinsa has followed the flu more closely than the CDC can"—and now experts anticipate the company's smart thermometers will be able to do the same for COVID-19. Kinsa also uploads users' anonymized and nonidentifiable temperature readings to a central database, which enables the company to map the prevalence and severity of fevers in the region and across the country.

In keeping with its mission to build health equity for all, Alliance has led this unique initiative involving health plans and CBOs in New York's Capital Region―purchasing and distributing the smart thermometers to approximately 35 partner organizations, ranging from local homeless shelters to regional hospitals and health plans.

"Many of the community-based organizations we partner with have told us that it's hard to get thermometers," says Jacob Reider, MD, Alliance CEO. "We believe that by getting these thermometers into the hands of Medicaid members, uninsured individuals, and the community partners who serve these people, this initiative will help people understand their symptoms sooner, which can result in more proactive isolation procedures―while also providing insight to public health professionals about emerging COVID-19 hotspots to help local officials better direct limited public resources."

While a number of the thermometers will go directly to the underserved, the vast majority will be distributed to workers at the CBOs—such as food pantries and organizations that assist with housing—that provide valuable social support to those at-risk during a time when continuity of services are needed more than ever before.

Peter Kelsey, chief operating officer of The Altamont Program, which provides residential services to hundreds of people throughout the Capital District, is receiving 700 thermometers.

"We're pleased to be working with Alliance for Better Health and its partner organizations on this smart thermometer program, so that our employees and our clients have a valuable tool to help us be proactive in evaluating their health," Kelsey says. "This will provide peace of mind to the heads of household and their children who often get left behind by the system, especially when they're in shelters."

Kelsey adds: "Additionally, the thermometers will give us the ability to monitor new admissions and know in advance if they are potentially infected, allowing us to keep anyone who may be high risk separated from the general population until a formal evaluation can be made. This program can help reduce the spread of the virus, while empowering our community members and reminding them that they can make a meaningful impact on their own and others' wellbeing."

Some of the CBOs are using the thermometers to work with their clients in innovative ways, such as Food Pantries for the Capital District, which provides groceries to those in need with 3.3 million meals annually.

"We will begin distributing the internet-connected thermometers to local food pantries soon," says Natasha Pernicka, executive director of Food Pantries for the Capital District. "They will be used to predict the potential spread of COVID-19 in real time by recording fevers as soon as they're experienced, and the data will be used to populate an interactive map that can track the spread of viruses to specific regions."

By doing that type of tracking, Pernicka says, the organization will have a heads-up about areas that may need their services most, since there's a correlation between those who are food insecure and COVID-19 vulnerability.

In addition to providing critical access to the smart thermometers, Alliance has launched several other projects aimed at improving health equity during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, including the following:

• purchasing and donating 425 Zoom licenses and over 40 laptops for community-based partner organizations to enable continuity and coordination of social services across the community;

• developing a COVID-19 resource page that centralizes important pandemic-related information in one location and helps partner organizations request assistance from Alliance;

• securing approximately 20,000 surgical masks for 26 partner organizations that were unable to locate a viable vendor; and

• hosting community hours via video conference to strengthen connections between Alliance and its partner CBOs.

"What makes Alliance for Better Health's mission-based model work is the fact that all of us—behavioral health providers, managed care organizations, medical care provider organizations, and social care providers—are all in this together," Reider says. "The work we are doing for people may have changed a bit in light of COVID-19—but what hasn't changed is our combined commitment to address social needs before they turn into medical problems so that we can build health equity for all."

Source: Alliance for Better Health