We’re now more than a year (and counting) into the COVID-19 pandemic. Communities throughout the country are still reeling from the social, financial, and health implications.
Pre-pandemic, SDoH—such as transportation, food security, and education—were known to have a significant impact on an individual's overall health outcomes. The pandemic has not only exposed this reality but has exacerbated these issues.
Multiple studies have found that the populations most likely to suffer during COVID-19 are those that were already at risk for poor health outcomes before the pandemic began. For those lacking housing, reliable transportation, and food security, all factors that contribute to overall health, COVID-19 has only made these issues worse.
People of color, based on geographical factors, have been significantly and disproportionately impacted. In an evaluation of COVID-19 and SDoH, Harvard Medical School found:
- Black Americans have a higher hospitalization rate for coronavirus-related illnesses than any other racial or ethnic group—and account for approximately 25 percent of deaths, despite representing just 13 percent of the population.
- Latinos are four times more likely than white Americans to be hospitalized due to COVID-19 infection.
- Native Americans are disproportionately at risk of serious illness and at the height of the pandemic, the Navajo nation had the third highest per capita COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S., trailing only New York and New Jersey.
Local, state, and federal governments have intervened, but much of the relief and protection measures haven’t adequately reached vulnerable populations who are most in need. To further complicate matters, some public health measures aimed at stemming viral transmission have actually worsened SDoH for many. Lockdowns have led to a worldwide increase in domestic and sexual violence. The switch to distance learning in schools has increased food insecurity and business limitations and closures have resulted in millions of jobs lost.
CBOs and COVID-19: Insights from the front lines
CBOs have long bridged the care gap in their local communities and are now serving as the vanguard of the pandemic response. As such, they can offer real time, on-the-ground insight that can be used to counter the pandemic’s negative impact on SDoH.
Due to COVID-19, the U.S. has experienced a documented rise in job loss, domestic violence, food insecurity, and mental health crises, among other issues, putting a critical demand on CBOs to address the increasing SDoH needs.
While the CDC has provided guidance to assist CBOs, from communicating risk-mitigation strategies, coordinating testing centers, promoting accurate vaccination information, and advocating for safer work environments—CBOs are the ones ensuring successful coordination, ultimately playing offense against the virus, and defense against its impact on SDoH.
How payers can support CBOs
By supporting the CBOs battling COVID-19's negative impact on SDoH, payers can actively address the current needs of their members, while ensuring their long-term health is being protected.
Here's what payers can do:
CBOs are in high demand, spread thin, and may not have the resources to engage payers to advocate for their needs. Payers can shoulder this burden by proactively communicating with partner CBOs to find out what they require to serve their communities. Opening a direct channel of communication allows both parties to brainstorm solutions and coordinate interventions that may mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on SDoH.
In the best of times, CBOs operate with limited resources. The pandemic has simultaneously increased the demand for services and drained the resources that make their work possible. Payers can step in to allocate more resources to CBOs like UnitedHealthcare is doing. In July, 2020 UnitedHealthcare donated $12.3 million to CBOs in 21 states to help mitigate the social impacts of the pandemic. Resources support food banks, domestic violence help centers, veteran services, and suicide prevention services, among others.
Provide advocacy and incentives
As the healthcare industry grapples with the fallout of COVID-19, payers can support CBOs' efforts to address SDoH through advocacy and incentives. Payers, for instance, can incentivize providers to regularly screen for social risks. Beyond clinician interactions, payers can advocate for policies that prioritize solutions that address health disparities resulting from SDoH, like expressing support for the Improving Social Determinants of Health Act of 2021.
A new normal: Mitigating the impact of SDoH through partnership
As we look forward to a post-pandemic world, it's important that we not return to normal, but rather build a new normal. At Healthify, we believe partnerships are key to creating this new reality. When it comes to SDoH, no one CBO or healthcare organization can address all health inequities. The pandemic has made this clear.
To achieve meaningful progress, we must work together.
We know it's a significant undertaking to establish and foster relationships. From funding to resources to mission alignment, forming effective partnerships require ongoing work. Healthify is dedicated to facilitating long-term, beneficial partnerships between CBOs and payers, with the mission of addressing health inequalities and ensuring better health outcomes for individuals.
Learn how we're successfully navigating the challenges faced by CBO-payer partnerships by downloading our latest white paper: CBOs and Payers: Challenges to Building Mutually Beneficial Partnerships.