Manik Bhat, Chief Strategy Officer and Founder of Healthify, recently spoke with BurstIQ’s Chief Community Officer Mike Biselli on his podcast Passionate Pioneers. The two discussed how Healthify is addressing COVID-19 with SDoH technology and community partnerships. Bhat also shared how the social services community will evolve as long-term recovery efforts begin to roll out amid the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has strained community partners
Even before COVID-19 was widespread in the U.S., community-based organizations (CBOs) struggled with the capacity to meet the demands for social services. “We’re starting from the groundwork of knowing that a lot of communities we serve in this space from a public health perspective don’t have long-standing social services in place,” Bhat said. "As stay-at-home orders began, unemployment claims and closures of nonessential businesses started to skyrocket. "
Bhat shared that 75% of community partners in the Healthify network have changed core operations — including reducing hours of operations or services — since the pandemic began. Many CBOs lost volunteers as people began to follow stay-at-home mandates and practice social distancing. As a result, numerous CBOs were left strained, and many have already closed permanently due to funding issues.
This is all while the need for social services is increasing. Bhat shared that 11-12% of Americans were food insecure before the pandemic. That number has since expanded to 32%.
Community partners are getting creative to deliver services
"It’s not all doom and gloom," Bhat said. "The coronavirus is helping CBOs rethink service delivery strategies." He shared that CBOs are coming together to address sustainability and get creative in how they deliver services in the face of uncertainty.
For example, prior to COVID-19, 16% of referrals in Healthify were tied to food needs. That number increased to 36% within a month of the start of the pandemic. In Kansas City, food insecurity has rapidly increased. That, combined with stay-at-home orders were making it very difficult to connect food-insecure residents to food resources.
In response to the rising SDoH needs, the Kansas City community came together to develop an innovative contactless food delivery program and received grant funding through Acumen America to increase access to food.
Surges in social isolation in light of COVID-19
“Social determinants of health” draws to mind different types of social issues: food insecurity, transportation, utility assistance, and housing. But COVID-19 has illuminated another SDoH domain: social isolation. While social isolation interventions have been popular in Medicare Advantage policies, the concept of social isolation was hard for many to contextualize before COVID-19.
“Everyone listening has probably felt what social isolation feels like by being quarantined for so long,” Bhat said. Moving forward, Bhat expects social isolation to be an acute need and service for health and social organizations. He shared that many organizations, including Papa and Wider Circle, are already tackling social isolation by structuring in-home, telehealth, and educational visits to beneficiaries so share that they are not alone.
Technology isn’t the sole solution for SDoH — but it does create connections
“Technology alone can’t solve these problems.” Bhat said. Still, he shared that technology can enable community partnerships and connections. Technology can help partners gain insights into the challenges their communities face and can inform innovations in service delivery.
To learn more about how communities are coming together to delivery services and provide resources during the pandemic, watch our recent webinar with Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City. In this webinar, Jerry Jones, Director of Community Health at Blue KC, highlights COVID-19 SDoH initiatives in Kansas City and how Blue KC and its' partners are innovating service delivery to support their community.