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Challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in ever-changing information and guidance being given to behavioral health and homeless services providers, slowing down their ability to help vulnerable populations in Hawaiʻi during the crisis.

In an urgent effort, three state agencies mobilized and launched the Behavioral Health and Homelessness Services Unified Response Group (BHHSURG) with support from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. This groundbreaking initiative makes Hawaiʻi the only state to integrate behavioral health and homelessness in one place with a website that centralizes and unifies information. It coordinates resources given to providers, helping reduce confusion, which allows providers to assist their clients safely.

BHHSURG is an innovative partnership. The State Department of Health Behavioral Health Administration, the Governor’s Coordinator on Homelessness and the State Department of Human Services Office of Homeless Programs with support from UH Mānoa Myron B. Thompson School of Social Work and other partners have pooled resources and efforts to address long-standing gaps in the system of care for vulnerable populations.

“The platform is groundbreaking in the way it has been organized,” said Victoria Fan, UH Mānoa associate professor of public health. “It hasn’t been done before. We believe it will help many who are in need of these services. UH Mānoa has played a key role in organizing and disseminating critical information and resources to providers so that vulnerable populations can continue to receive services during this unprecedented time.”

UH Mānoa experts have helped to develop the program on many levels including coordination and integration of resources through data and analytics, as well as other operational, logistical and communications support.

Undergraduate students have been helping by staying abreast of federal policies such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for testing and telehealth. Graduate students have been translating the information they find into operational and clinical tools that providers can use to help their clients.

—By Sarah Hendrix

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