In late 2022, the Multicultural Health Institute embarked on a journey with The Patterson Foundation to formalize and enhance MHI’s growing need to offer digital navigation assistance to its clients. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many healthcare providers almost instantly transitioned to telehealth appointments. This created a huge barrier for many clients they serve, who lack access to technology devices and internet access and often struggle navigating websites, online applications, and patient portals. While MHI has been assisting individuals in navigating these digital barriers for several years, it became increasingly apparent that growing its capabilities in this area would be a crucial step in continuing to assist its clients.

The Multicultural Health Institute (MHI) is a non-profit organization seeking to level the healthcare playing field by promoting, educating, and ensuring equal healthcare access and treatment for underserved communities. Founded in 1998, MHI has an expansive history rich in serving the community and bringing important health issues to the forefront. Through culturally sensitive and representative pathways, MHI’s programming reaches the most vulnerable populations as well as the larger-scale systems that affect the care these individuals need.

Internet and other forms of digital data use are at an all-time high, and misinformation acquired through these sources is rampant. When people lack accurate information about their healthcare, they may increase their chances of following inaccurate and harmful healthcare advice, delay seeking medical attention for emergency situations, and become overwhelmed and stressed, further intensifying their healthcare needs. To address this, MHI has a scholar program focusing on data analysis, epidemiological promotion, and education. Participation in The Paterson Foundation’s Digital Navigator program will further enhance MHI’s capacity to continue this important work.

One MHI team member reflected on a recent experience in assisting a client to overcome the digital barriers they were facing:

“ I recently spoke with a father who sought help for his adult stepson’s debilitating anxiety. The father had supported his stepson for years, but as he approached his retirement and struggled to fill out various applications, he realized he could no longer solely provide the support. This case presented the complex interlocking challenges of preserving and improving the mental health, economic welfare, healthcare access, and housing security of several individuals. I immediately provided this gentleman with the information for Centerstone’s CareLine so the stepson could access treatment as soon as possible. The father and I then collaborated on a list of goals he had while working with the care navigator, including revisiting his son’s application for Social Security, completing his son’s application for Medicaid (they experienced technical difficulties with the online portal and lengthy wait times over the phone), applying for housing assistance, and, of course, accessing the appropriate healthcare."

As we spoke, I could hear the relief in this gentleman’s voice that he would no longer have to navigate this situation alone. Often, people seeking assistance are surprised when I answer the phone. They’ve already left voicemails at several offices and helplines, or previous connections didn’t meet their needs, and that’s not because those other offices are doing something incorrectly but rather because we at MHI are uniquely positioned to manage these highly complex cases. The range of experiences and backgrounds across our Multicultural team, combined with a shared commitment to honoring the humanity of all people, positions us with the knowledge and compassion needed to connect people with needed resources and walk alongside them as they go through the necessary steps to access them.” Onyx Hadwen, MHI Program Manager

While MHI is still in the beginning phase of rolling out the Digital Navigation Program, they are already seeing the added benefits and increase access afforded to their clients.

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