HCA distributes thousands of phones to assist Washingtonians access to Apple Health services during the COVID-19 pandemic

Monday, July 13, 2020

Telehealth plays an important role in maintaining well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic. Access to smartphones is necessary when coordinating care remotely. Many individuals with lower incomes don’t have the technology to access health care or other vital services while maintaining physical distancing.

In response, the Health Care Authority (HCA) distributed thousands of phones to Apple Health (Medicaid) clients to access telehealth and community resources. Cell phone companies donated the phones with 400 talk minutes and unlimited data at no cost to individuals.

Behavioral health outpatient facilities were one avenue HCA used to distribute phones. One facility identified community members experiencing homelessness while struggling without structured resources. Community Court Coordinators distributed phones for clients to connect with treatment, resources, and their attorneys.

Donated phones made it easier for Apple Health clients to secure and maintain housing. An elderly individual experiencing a behavioral health crisis found herself on the edge of eviction. Although she was able to find low-income housing, she was unable to coordinate and fund the move. With a phone provided by HCA, she identified a moving company and family member who was willing to cover the expenses. This helped build trust with the behavioral health facility, increasing the chances of participating in a mental health assessment and counseling.

Treatment for substance use disorder (SUD) requires ongoing support. An undocumented individual enrolled in SUD services had no ability to apply for government resources or stay connected with his court responsibilities without a phone. COVID-19 made it difficult to work on his legal status while living in a shelter. With a free cell phone, he can demonstrate to the courts he remained connected with his treatment team.

Transitioning through inpatient and outpatient treatment is another difficult task with no form of communication. A young woman used her donated phone to coordinate substance use treatment and inpatient referral through telehealth.

The behavioral health facility expressed they are profoundly grateful for the phones and display of community well-being that HCA and the cell phone companies provided. These examples share how Apple Health clients used their donated phones to utilize services to better their overall health and well-being.

Visit our COVID-19 webpage to learn more about HCA’s response to the pandemic.