How community-based organizations helped create a referral process to better serve communities

Supporting Community Vision 

Community-based organizations provide critical social infrastructure by knowing the needs of their communities and then raising the needed connections and resources. Community-based organizations provide a variety of social services, including early childhood education, developmental disabilities, supporting basic needs like housing and food, mental health and substance abuse treatment, maternal and child health, and other health services. Their ability to connect families to services and supports relies on the trust earned by their relationship and position with their communities. For these organizations, the collaborative efforts to build a thriving community are more than complex—they are deeply felt and fostered. CPPR has long recognized and respected the vision each community has for itself. After listening to their collective experiences and concerns with referral processes, we saw the opportunity to support their impact as they drove and led the work for their communities forward.  

The Challenge 

Despite the frequency and need for service provider referrals, the referral process can be responsible for delays and lapses in services. For a person seeking services and support, these impediments can influence their relationship with a service provider or their overall decision to follow through with an appointment. Service providers, too, can be frustrated with how a referral process can be held up by missing or redundant information and left wondering whether an individual actually engaged in services. The absence of a streamlined and coordinated referral process creates multiple issues: long wait times, inappropriately matched referrals, or unnecessary burden on individuals to navigate an unfamiliar system. Ultimately a successful referral — where a person can access the services and supports at the time they need — requires more than a referral system. 


CPPR’s Integrated Referral and Intake System (IRIS) is a bi-directional, closed loop referral system that streamlines communications between community providers offering services to individuals and families. With IRIS, we were able to create both a referral process and a supportive environment for local community partners to continue their investment in their communities. Today, we're celebrating over 50,000 referrals made in IRIS. The online referral system has grown to 32 communities and is used by 1,441 organizations across six different states — connecting more than 30,000 families with needed care and services.  

In a 2021 study, researchers investigated the factors that connected people to referred services and found that “healthcare systems can best promote successful connection by understanding, strengthening, and simplifying the pathways to access referred resources, which often means building relationships with local CBOS [community-based organizations] and social service agencies.” Recently CPPR learned the completion rate—the rate of those referrals that result in the family or the individual enrolling into referred services—is higher than the Kansas average. Kansas physicians or healthcare professionals who made referrals with IRIS saw a 45 percent enrollment rate into their services, which is higher than the current average of 42.6 percent. 

From its inception, IRIS was inspired by community-based organizations and the work they do for their communities. As organizations changed and grew, IRIS grew and changed with them. After hearing that organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area and some rural areas in Kansas had identified workflow challenges and service delays due to serving families who lived across county lines, we supported their request to merge individual IRIS networks into a unified network. By standardizing the user experience of IRIS for participating organizations, they could use the same referral form, regardless of their location or the residence of a family, which strengthened service coordination across counties to make needed services more accessible. Currently, there are two distinct IRIS unified networks—the Greater KC Metro (Jackson County, MO and Johnson & Wyandotte Counties, KS) and the Wildcat Region (Geary, Riley, & Pottawatomie Counties, KS).  

These unified networks ultimately created the opportunity to connect families to a greater number of services in multiple regions. As the organizations themselves reflect the interconnectedness of their communities, the consolidated networks were designed to support and emulate the geographic experiences of providers and families moving beyond the jurisdiction of their residence. With these dynamics and trends identified by community organizations, we wanted IRIS to support the full measure of a community’s needs. We look forward to learning more from our community champions. 

Learn more about IRIS and stories from our community champions.