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Analysis

ProMedica Offers Social Determinants of Health Services for Employees During COVID Crisis

By Alexandra Wilson Pecci  
   March 27, 2020

"It's something tangible that we can do for our own employee population during COVID-19," says ProMedica's president of social determinants of health, Kate Sommerfeld.

ProMedica, the Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan healthcare network, has been investing heavily in social determinants of health (SDoH) projects for its patients and surrounding community for several years.

But with schools closed, social distancing rules in affect, and many people losing their jobs, healthcare providers and their families need help, too. That's why ProMedica is shifting some of those SDoH resources to its own employees who are working nonstop during the COVID-19 crisis.

"I think that one thing that’s been increasingly clear for us is that our folks in healthcare—our clinicians, our nurses, our doctors—they are on the front lines and are doing heroic things right now," Kate Sommerfeld, president of social determinants of health for ProMedica, tells HealthLeaders. "Our own employees have significant social determinants, and they have needs right now."

Interventions for Employees

In recent weeks, Sommerfeld says they've been rapidly deploying the same patient supports to its own employee population, especially in two areas: Childcare and food support.

Here are the actions they're taking.

Childcare:

"As our schools have closed, we have people who are working tirelessly providing incredibly important patient care who have childcare needs," Sommerfeld says. "Childcare is becoming an urgent issue."

This is where partnering with outside organizations becomes important. She says ProMedica will not be "in the business of childcare." Instead, they're leveraging existing relationships to provide options for employees.

For instance, in partnership with YMCAs located in Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan, ProMedica has secured a limited number of slots for children of ProMedica healthcare workers at several locations.

It's also directing employees to state and national childcare resources, such as alerting them to the existence of facilities with temporary pandemic childcare licenses.

Food support:

Although ProMedica isn't getting into the business of childcare, it is already in the business of groceries: It operates:

  • A full-service grocery store in a certified food desert in Toledo, which also features online ordering
     
  • Three food clinics located at ProMedica Bay Park Hospital, the Center for Health Services and the ProMedica Health and Wellness Center for patients who screen positive for food insecurity
     
  • A mobile grocery market that visits housing locations and ProMedica facilities in the Toledo area

Sommerfeld says they have been shifting those grocery supports to ensure their own employees have the food they need.

For instance, they have started deploying the mobile grocery to its hospitals so employees don’t have to travel to a grocery store after work.

"As employees obviously are working long, long hours and they're transitioning from a shift, we have a grocery support that comes onsite," Sommerfeld says. "They can come onto the bus…[and] grocery shop right onsite after their shift."

Employees can also access the food clinics.

"If an employee has a food need they can come in to any one of the three food clinic locations, they can show their badge, and they get free food for their entire family for three days," she says.

A new focus on SDoH?

Health systems have been reluctant to invest in SDoH programs because it's difficult (but not impossible) to show ROI, yet experts believe that the COVID-19 crisis will shine a light on the need for such programs.

"We now know that a pandemic response requires very close coordination between the health system and the greater community," Benjamin Isgur, leader of PwC's Health Research Institute, tells HealthLeaders via email. ProMedica's partnership with the YMCA is a good example of that.

"Our research shows that coordination is also a key SDoH strategy," he says. "Organizations participating in the response, whether government, health system or community organizations, can adopt SDoH leading practices to improve pandemic response."

However, he notes that in a 2016 Health Research Institute survey, "less than 50% of primary care physicians said their practices coordinate with the right social service agencies."

"Fast forward to today. The same question is relevant: How can we improve coordination to improve a pandemic response?" he says.

In addition, Sommerfeld says the pandemic has only exacerbated problems for populations that are already vulnerable, like people living in low-income neighborhoods and those who struggle to pay day-to-day living expenses.

"This epidemic is also really shining a light on some of that disparity as well," she says.

In the meantime, ProMedica will continue offering its SDoH services not only to its patient population, but also its own staff.

"It's something tangible that we can do for our own employee population during COVID-19," Sommerfeld says.

Alexandra Wilson Pecci is an editor for HealthLeaders.


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