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Give-2-Get: How Being Needed Can Make You Feel Better

Social networking is big business these days.

But here’s a new twist: a health organization setting up a social network so its poorer, sicker members have someone to talk to — and a way to exchange odd jobs.

CareOregon is setting up just such a new Give-2-Get network — not to make money, but to improve members’ health.

Diane Myers and Annette Parker are both on the Oregon Health Plan. They've been asked by their coordinated care organization Care Oregon to test a new social networking site Give2Get.

Diane Myers and Annette Parker are both on the Oregon Health Plan. They’ve been asked by their coordinated care organization Care Oregon to test a new social networking site Give2Get.

Kristian Foden-Vencil/OPB

Annette Parker lives in Beaverton and spent much of her life helping other people as a nurse’s assistant. But now that she’s retired, it’s her health that’s suffering.

She has varicose veins, vertigo and acid reflux.

She on Oregon’s version of Medicaid, The Oregon Health Plan, which she gets through CareOregon, a health services organization working with multiple coordinated care organizations.

It isn’t as easy as it used to be for her to get out and make friends, which is why CareOregon asked her to take part in the Give-2-Get pilot project.

“I have a lot to give. I do a lot of cooking. I make gumbo for the holidays and I give those. Sometimes people pay me for those. And what I’d like to get is someone maybe come around once in a while and walk with me, yeah, for exercise,” Parker says.

CareOregon is taking the stance that improving a person’s health requires more than just a good health plan.

Spokeswoman Rose Englert, says it involves exercise, a healthy diet and if you’re stuck at home — a support network.

“In our society as a whole, social isolation is a real problem. And particularly if you’re not going to work every day, you’re not going to school every day, or you don’t have a large group of friends or family around you. It’s very hard to connect to people,” Englert says.

In an effort to help CareOregon’s patients become more social, Englert says the health plan held a brainstorming session and came up with the idea for Give-2-Get.

It’s a social network. But instead of sending pictures of cute cats to each other, patients offer to help each other with various chores. So one person might swap an hour of walking say, for an hour of cleaning up another member’s closet, or helping them fill in a form.

“I think it’s really good. Because it’s like back in the olden days, bartering. People give to get. It’s really good. It’s going to be very interesting how it’s going to play out,” according to Parker.

So far, CareOregon has started one pilot project, where about 10 people including Annette Parker got together to give and receive services.

Rose Englert says it went very well.

“People really lit up. There was so much interest just in the idea that we were able to do multiple listening groups and have work groups of members put this program together. And we found that the folks in the program have really blossomed,” Englert says.

Englert says a screening process helps protect those involved from people who may have had issues with drugs and crime or who might take advantage of the elderly.

Rose Englert: “So there’s multiple examples of programs like this in the community already. Everything from Meals on Wheels to mental health and addiction peer support networks. There’s been a lot of work done before us on how to make those interactions are safe. And part of the program is application, a screening process and an interview.”

One of the people who was concerned about safety was Diane Myers. The 63-year-old lives in Tigard and is a retired book keeper.

Her concern stems from the fact that in her 40s, she got involved with drugs and alcohol. She’s been clean now for 7 years, but the experience left her aware of potential problems.

“At first I had fears about how this could possibly work. How scary is that to have strangers. But since I’ve learned more about the vetting process and how people will get into the program. I feel really confident about it, and excited about it,” Myers says.

That’s partially because she lost touch with members of her own support network — her friends and family — because of her drug use.

“I can sew, I can cook, I can be a good companion. I can take walks with people. I could help people fill out forms or accompany them to places they need to go.”

Myers says she has chores around the house she could use a hand with.

” … So I was thinking, I really would like to put that dust ruffle on the bed. But I need someone really strong to hold up the mattress so that I can do that.”

But what about doctors? How important do they think being part of a community is to a sick person?

Amit Shah is CareOregon’s medical director.

“People do have sore throats abdominal pain and things that require medical services. But the other thing that they really are looking for is a community,” Shah says.

Back with the retired nurse’s assistant, Annette Parker, she says it’s nice to have someone to talk to and help her with chores. But it’s the giving  part she believes will make sick people feel better.

“It’ll improve their health by getting to know people and some people just getting out of the house you know, who’s inside all the time. And just by communicating, you get a little more self-esteem in people who have real chronic conditions,” Parker says.

CareOregon is considering hiring someone to help screen participants and keep track of who gives and what they get.

It’s also contracting with a professor from Portland State University to track whether the health of participants improves — and if that reduces their health care costs.

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