In a year when health has been the dominant global concern, the world has seen COVID-19’s disparate impact on low-income communities — and particularly on Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). For Blacks and Hispanics, both COVID-19 infection rates and death rates are roughly triple those of whites (1).
We’ve also seen that the isolation that is inextricably coupled with social distancing has intensified or created new health issues. Substance use is on the rise, with a consequent nationwide increase in opioid-related deaths. Forty-one percent of Americans admit to cancelling or postponing medical appointments of all kinds — including emergency care (2). Psychological damage wrought by months of fear, anxiety, and stress is causing its own cascade of health problems.
On every front, BlueHub borrowers are finding ways to address the problems head on — ways that not only solve immediate concerns but that will lead to lasting change.
In early March, as the pandemic was gaining force, Community Health Center, Inc. knew their 100,000 patients across Connecticut would need a new way to connect with their healthcare providers. This BlueHub partner had discussed the benefits of telehealth but had not implemented it. COVID-19 changed that. “Losing touch with our patients was unacceptable. We transitioned our entire practice from a traditional face-to-face model to a telehealth model in a week,” says Leslie Gianelli, Vice President, Communications. “For us, telehealth includes both video and audio. Within our patient population, not everyone has WIFI access or even a smartphone.” The change is likely to have lasting consequences. “Our patients really like being seen via telehealth. They like not having to take time off work, to find transportation, to sit in the waiting room. I have no doubt that telehealth will continue to be an option,” Gianelli declares.
Dorchester, Massachusetts-based organization and BlueHub borrower The Guild creates sanctuaries in the city, places where an ecosystem of healers and wellness workers receive training and deliver services, often for free. These offerings — encompassing reiki and drum circles, aromatherapy and yoga, tai chi and many more modalities — are provided to low-income Black residents of Boston neighborhoods Roxbury, Dorchester, Mattapan, and beyond. At their core, The Guild are community members responding to their communities’ needs — and those needs have evolved. “Because of the pandemic, we have shifted to more direct action around basic needs,” explains Founder, President, and CEO, Jhana Senxian. “We have supported more than 75,000 people with our care packages of food, personal protective equipment, cleaning supplies, toiletries, and other essentials to help deal with the intensified stress and trauma of these times.” She adds, “Food insecurity and social isolation will continue to be issues, so we’ll continue a focus on this work.” They will continue other important work, too.
Senxian explains, “It took the crises of the last year for some people to acknowledge that our existing systems don’t work. The Guild is engaged in deep systems — and culture-change work, partnering across sectors on multiple levels. We are developing new scalable models, new processes, and new horizons of opportunity.” That work will lead to lasting change.