(This is the second in a four-part series on community health issues magnified during the COVID-19 pandemic. See the first part here.)
The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified a plethora of community health issues that often operate in the shadows.
Issues like food insecurity. Domestic violence and child abuse. Housing instability. Mental illness.
All appear to be on the rise. St. Luke’s care providers have seen it in the emergency rooms and clinics. Social service organizations have noticed, too.
“The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on and in some cases exacerbated community health issues that have been present in our communities for several years,” said Angie Gribble, St. Luke’s director of community health.
Earlier this year, St. Luke’s awarded more than 60 Community Health Improvement Fund grants to nonprofit organizations across the region supporting Idahoans in need.
St. Luke’s distributes CHIF grants yearly, typically aligned to the most significant health issues identified in its triannual Community Health Needs Assessments. This year, the issues mentioned earlier that have surfaced in the wake of the novel coronavirus took precedence for funding.
“We are prioritizing our engagement with organizations working to mitigate the effects of the pandemic,” said Dr. Alejandro Necochea, a hospitalist and member of the St. Luke’s Treasure Valley Community Board.
The second area of focus we will look at is food insecurity and access to basic needs, as March is National Nutrition Month.
With widespread economic woes caused by the pandemic, it is no secret food insecurity is soaring.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food insecurity as a ‘household-level economic and social condition of limited or uncertain access to adequate food.’
Before the coronavirus was identified in the U.S., one in nine adults and one in seven children nationwide were considered food insecure, according to Feeding America’s recent report — the lowest rate in more than two decades.
That progress, though, screeched to a halt. Over the past year, the numbers have increased to as high as one in seven adults and one in five children.
The data are similar in Idaho, according to The Idaho Foodbank and Feeding America.
“The challenges of the last year have resulted in not just more people struggling with hunger in our state, but also people who could never have imagined needing to ask for help before seeking assistance,” said Karen Vauk, president and CEO of The Idaho Foodbank.
St. Luke’s provides ongoing financial support for The Idaho Foodbank, recognizing the organization’s reach into every community St. Luke’s provides health care services.
The Idaho Foodbank has increased its food distribution by approximately 40% from last year, creating new outlets for emergency food distribution.
“Hunger is a symptom of other struggles in life and it is imperative that people continue to get the nutrition they need to live healthy and resilient lives, particularly when under the stress that so many have experienced over the past year,” Vauk said.
Closely related to food insecurity is access to basic needs.
St. Luke’s has provided CHIF grants recently to BabySteps, a program that helps new parents learn fundamental childrearing skills and gain access to various household and personal items; Assistance League of Boise, which offers hundreds of ‘baby bundle’ kits to new, in-need mothers at local hospitals; and the Magic Valley Area Humanitarian Center, which provides numerous items to families in need, including quilts and masks.
“Together, we are strengthening our communities’ safety nets while addressing the social determinants of health,” said Dr. Necochea.
Daniel Mediate works in the St. Luke’s Community Engagement department.