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How technology, talent and data provide hope in tumultuous times

Chief Executive Officer, Health Care Access Now (HCAN)

In Ohio, the tectonic shift occurred at 11:59 p.m. March 23, 2020 when the Department of Health Director implemented stay at home orders. In subsequent days and weeks, unknowns prevailed – despite an inundation of COVID-19 information, and often conflicting perspectives from government, healthcare and media sources. Points of view from colleagues, family and friends were abundant. 

We at Health Care Access Now (HCAN) felt the waves of uncertainty but we could not wait for definitive answers. Neither could our clients. These individuals, some of the most vulnerable in the greater Cincinnati area, rely on our organization for healthcare and social services coordination. Individuals seeking Community Health Worker certification, also depend on us to provide their courses of study. HCAN immediately pivoted to ensure we could deliver services promised to our clients and the community. The COVID-19 pandemic proved to be an opportunity that yielded unanticipated, positive results.

Empowering remote consultations today and tomorrow

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, our Certified Community Health Workers (C-CHW) worked face-to-face with clients in the neighborhoods of Cincinnati. The laptops and mobile phones that served us so well in the field, enabled us to quickly adapt to virtual visits when augmented with video conferencing and electronic signature capabilities. However, we found our most beneficial tool was flexibility. Flexible work and virtual visiting hours helped our staff attend to their unique, personal circumstances and meet their client needs.

Consistently delivering essential services

According to US News and World Report, Ohio ranks in the bottom third in meeting citizen’s needs based on healthcare access, quality and overall health of the public. Estimates from the Gen-H Connect, a program sponsored by our partner The Health Collaborative, indicate 35 percent of social program participants are food insecure, 25 percent are housing insecure and 22 percent lack adequate transportation—and this is before the onset of COVID-19. Chronic medical conditions and pregnancy exacerbate the challenges. Since the onset, agencies experienced a 45 percent increase in the need for client interactions in April 2020. Interrupted treatments or support translate into increased financial and resource strains on local healthcare and government social services systems. Our remote workforce continues to meet our client service commitments. In fact, our virtual visit capabilities and flexible hours of service will help our organization well beyond today’s immediate COVID-19 crisis.

Supporting virtual Community Health Worker education

The in-person Community Health Worker certification programs HCAN provides were no longer feasible due to stay-at-home and social distancing requirements. We collaborated with the Ohio Board of Nursing, the certifying body for our education programs, to deploy a distance learning model that allowed individuals to complete their course requirements. Each of our organizations recognized supporting newly certified Community Health Workers is critical given current and future pandemic-related health and social service needs. Collectively, we are evaluating accommodations for future education programs to help increase the number of new C-CHW resources in our communities.

Maintaining connections with community partners

Our community services and technology partnerships are essential to our success. For example, the Cincinnati-based electronic medical data exchange, The Health Collaborative, provides HCAN with up-to-the minute, client-specific healthcare updates through its Master Patient Index, built on IBM’s InfoSphere Master Data Management. Client alerts appear in our C-CHWs' case dashboard enabling them to reach out quickly to provide needed support. The Health Collaborative resources were activated to manage Ohio’s COVID-19 emergency response plan. The organization complies and reports aggregated healthcare, capacity and other pandemic-related data daily, while coordinating resources for healthcare providers and support agencies. Our ongoing partnerships, and the information they provide, helps us to nimbly address the near-term requirements of our clients while maintaining a perspective for the organization’s longer-term needs.

Providing hope to the most vulnerable

While COVID-19 conversations continue to swirl and change, I remain hopeful. Our non-profit agency continues to evolve while serving the Greater Cincinnati area. We help our clients remain hopeful. We still lend a listening ear by phone or video, drop off food at the doorstep of the elderly or homebound, and supply new mothers with diapers and lactation supplies. And yes, we’ve even delivered toilet paper. As the need for healthcare and social services continues to increase as the result of COVID-19 challenges, we are confident the lessons learned thus far will continue to inspire new ways to effectively serve our clients.

Health Care Access Now is a non-profit 501(c) organization serving the needs of the Greater Cincinnati area. To learn more about the impact of its community services, visit:  https://healthcareaccessnow.org/annual-impact-2018

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