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How Rush University Medical Center supports its most vulnerable patients amid Covid-19

August 26, 2020

    The Covid-19 epidemic has increased urgency of health-related social needs across the country. The West Side of Chicago is no exception. Rush University Medical Center has responded by ramping up its existing partnerships with community organizations to address the new and exacerbated social needs of its most vulnerable populations.

    Rush recently released a Community Response Playbook outlining its approach. Read on to learn what its response looked like and key lessons from its experience.

    How Rush University Medical Center is addressing the root causes of determinants of health

    About Rush's Community Command Center

    Shortly after the shelter-in-place order went into effect in Illinois, Rush launched the Community Command Center (CCC). The CCC is a coalition of over 50 Rush staff who coordinate to meet patients' social needs. The CCC assists Rush's most vulnerable patients by partnering with community organizations on initiatives focused on key social determinants of health, such as food and housing support.

    The first step to strengthening health equity: Gather input on community needs

    To best serve the communities at high risk of adverse outcomes from the Covid-19 epidemic, Rush wanted to determine the most impactful interventions it could make. To do so, the CCC gathered input using a variety of methods, including:

    • Sending electronic surveys to community members and organizations that Rush has existing relationships with;

    • Surveying Rush employees who work closely with vulnerable patients, such as care managers and community health workers;

    • Seeking feedback from the West Side Covid-19 homeless coalition; and

    • Collecting general information from local news outlets and professional networks.

    The CCC in action: 2 key interventions for social needs

    Once it collected input from stakeholders, Rush deployed several interventions to address the top needs of community members. Below, we highlight two of them.

    1. Social connection supports and mental health treatment

    Rush put in place multiple supports targeted at mitigating social isolation, especially among older patients and caregivers. Its interventions include a twice-a-week telephonic emotional support group led by clinical social workers, friendly outreach calls by volunteers, and online modules about coping and stress.

    To ensure the community is aware of these resources, Rush informs patients about the support groups on its website and in e-newsletters. Care managers also share the resources with their patients when appropriate. And to assist in getting the intervention off the ground, Rush recruited medical students and volunteers to conduct outreach to older adults.

    2. Emergency food support

    Rush is leveraging its existing food security leadership group, as well as its own volunteers. Its team works with a local organization called Top Box Foods to safely deliver boxes of food. Participating individuals receive at least two weeks of fresh produce and shelf-stable food.

    To identify potential participants, volunteers reach out to patients who have a West Side zip code, are over age 60, and attend a church engaged with Rush's community outreach program. During the calls, the volunteers will confirm if the individual is experiencing food insecurity, provide information about the food pantry, and link them to resources to apply for SNAP or Meals on Wheels.

    Lessons learned from Rush's community response

    Rush's robust community partnerships and longstanding commitments to health equity allowed it to quickly scale support for vulnerable patients during Covid-19. If your organization is looking meet the social needs of your patient populations, be sure to:

    1. Lean on existing community partnerships to gather information about your community's top needs; and

    2. Invite those same partners to the table when making critical decisions about where to allocate resources.

    "Critical to this effort was setting the table with everyone because we can think better as a group," said David Ansell, Rush's SVP of community health equity and associate provost of community affairs. "It's a table to which everyone is invited. As problems have risen in the morning, we've tried to solve them in the afternoon."

    To see additional details about these and other interventions, read Rush's full playbook or watch their recent webinar.

    How Rush University Medical Center is addressing the root causes of social determinants of health


    Rush University Medical Center is a 664-bed academic medical center and Level II Trauma Center located on the West Side of Chicago. Rush and their community partners are at the forefront of innovative approaches to address the social determinants of health. They graciously met with our experts to share what they’ve learned.

    Watch these five videos to hear their experiences firsthand.

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