December 3, 2022

Sapiensdigital

Sapiens Digital

Findhelp Is Bringing Tech Innovations To Social Services

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The events of the past two years have probably prompted many of us to wonder: What happens if the public safety net breaks down? It’s a question that public benefit corporation, findhelp (formerly Aunt Bertha), has been trying to answer since 2010.

“What do people do when life throws them a curveball, and how do they connect to social services?” Erine Gray, founder and CEO of findhelp, asked while reflecting on the inspiration for the company in a recent interview. “There was an opening for a new way of thinking. And we are now in our eleventh year of operation.”

Findhelp.org is a free-to-use search engine from findhelp, for social services providers and the people they serve. Put in your zip code, and findhelp connects you to a list of programs broken into categories such as food, housing, care and transit. As a core part of their mission, there is no cost associated with either hosting a program or looking for services on the findhelp network. They don’t sell user data or place ads on their site, either.

“I am a big believer that we’ll protect people’s data as a cornerstone for the operation and for the business,” Gray explains. “We don’t charge the people seeking help and we don’t monetize their information through ads. And the nonprofits, we don’t charge them either.”

Of course, the issue for Gray was making money with an online business that neither charged for access nor sold its data. It was imperative to find a monetization method that didn’t compromise the social mission of the business.

“At first, I thought to build a simple screening tool that nonprofits could license for $50 a month,” Gray recalls. But the profits weren’t nearly enough. Tweaking their sales method made huge improvements, but the real difference was luck, when the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2014: “We started to notice that employees of some of the largest Fortune 100 companies were finding our little site and doing searches.”

In the midst of huge cost restructuring, healthcare networks began looking for more ways to prevent people from going to the hospital in the first place.

“Around 2014, these health plans started hiring tens of thousands of social workers and care coordinators to get to know their members and to try to help them connect to services,” Gray explains. “We then started white labeling our software and building some advanced integrations that larger customers can subscribe to. We now work with 450 customers nationwide, including eight of the top 10 largest health plans in the United States and , nearly 200 hospital systems in the United States. We are the platform they use to find and connect people to social services.”

While the basic services can still allow a social worker at a hospital to look up patient programs and services for free, the advanced software features are what pay for that possibility, Gray says. And customers extend beyond healthcare settings.

“Although healthcare is a big chunk of our customer base, more and more organizations are joining our network because, for instance, they’re a community college in the education space where kids are unnecessarily dropping out because of life getting in the way.”

It’s easy to forget that findhelp is a private service. The company has a lot to owe to the intersection of Gray’s life and career.

Gray received his Master’s in public policy, and worked with state government for four years. It was during that time he experienced the wide technology gap in government services.

“A lot of the inspiration for findhelp came from seeing the broken system and thinking there ought to be a better way,” Gray recalls. “I was able to advocate for a lot of changes during my time at Maximus, and it was at a time where the state of Texas was very willing to listen to my suggestions. But it wasn’t fast enough.”

If he was going to implement change in a reasonable timeframe, Gray realized it had to be done from the outside. And software was the way to achieve that vision.

“The idea was, could I start a company and build software? And then I did become a programmer again, because I built the first version of our software,” Gray says about calling upon his past career as a programmer to realize his mission-driven vision.

Gray attributes much of findhelp’s success to their commitment to core mission. “Our core for the longest time has been a nationwide comprehensive network, so that anybody, in any zip code, can at least know their options. We’ve stayed very focused on our core as compared to others that are out there.”

Commitment to mission is deeply personal for Gray. Another part of what led him to bridge the gap between social services and patients was caring for his ill mother.

“She caught a rare brain disease, encephalitis,” Gray says. “When she got out of the hospital, she lost a large chunk of her memory. I’m still involved in her life. She requires 24-hour care. And I think the light bulb moment for me was realizing the safety net is broken still.”

But Gray is optimistic that findhelp, and other companies like it, are making a real difference.

“It’s an area that hasn’t gotten a lot of innovation with technology. I think that’s where the new wave of investment will happen,” Gray muses. “Imagine maybe a health plan or a hospital system, or even a county government, might just make that problem go away. Because at the end of the day, somebody’s paying for the safety net. The question is how much pain does somebody have to go through it to get there? And I’m just an optimist about the future.”

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