The Southeast Washington Alliance for Health (SEWAAH) has spent the past nine months, like so many other organizations across the region, trying to balance responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, identifying and meeting new needs in our communities, and continuing to make progress on shared population health objectives.
Before the pandemic began, the SEWAAH had worked with the Spokane Regional Health District and the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health to conduct a common Community Health Needs Assessment across Columbia, Garfield and Asotin counties and then reach agreement on major health priorities in the region. Through this work the members of the SEWAAH identified overweight youth, immunizations, substance abuse, healthcare access and preventive services, and bullying as common problems affecting the populations in our communities. Using a structured planning process, the group developed key activities to work on together for each of these priority areas.
However, in addition to requiring a shift in focus for most healthcare, public health and behavioral health organizations in the region, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a major impact on the populations we serve and their health, financial and social service needs. Over the past two months the SEWAAH has worked to develop a better understanding of those impacts and to identify specific actions that we can take to begin mitigation. At the October meeting, the SEWAAH members did a deep dive into COVID-related problems affecting our communities and identified the following:
Schools – especially the need to support students, families and staff in making the transition back to regular school programs;
Food insecurity -- determining whether members of local communities have necessary access to food;
Behavioral health – particularly programs to reduce isolation and suicide risk; and
Navigating health and community services – a need for programs to help individuals get access to appropriate community and clinical services.
The members of the SEWAAH then agreed on specific actions they will take to make progress in each of these areas. This work will in part be supported by grant funds that the group has been successful in acquiring over the past year, including two grants from the Group Health Foundation to support mental health services and small programs targeting specific community needs in each of the three counties. These programs include transportation assistance, food programs for kids and their families, distribution of personal protection equipment and sanitizer, improved access to behavioral health services, and emergency funding to avoid loss of housing or transportation.
Concurrent with the COVID-19 related work and strategic planning, the SEWAAH is wrapping up work on the grant from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration. This grant supported regional telehealth planning and an application for the SEWAAH to become a 501c3. This work, along with key support from the Greater Columbia ACH that enabled the formation the SEWAAH, has provided a critical foundation that will enable the region to work together on new population health transformation projects in the future.