Children's hospitals took agility to new heights during COVID-19-instantly thinking and working in new ways out of necessity. It didn't take long for changes to start driving efficiencies, improving experiences for staff, patients and families and enhancing care. That's why many adjustments the pandemic has brought to children's hospitals will be here to stay even in a post-COVID world.
In the summer issue of Children's Hospitals Today, we take a closer look at eight ways children's hospitals are improving outcomes-now and into the future-with innovations born out of the pandemic response. Here's one such glimmer of hope: how one children's hospital is addressing food insecurity in its community.
COVID-19 prompted a hard pivot of hospital food clinic service
Like many children's hospitals, Children's Hospital Colorado has dedicated resources to addressing social determinants of health. Its Resource Connect program enlists a team of navigators to help match families with a variety of vital services, including housing assistance, legal services and food support. Traditionally it has provided nutritional meals to families via Healthy Roots Food Clinic, its on-campus community food pantry.
When social distancing and stay-at-home orders made it more difficult for struggling families to visit the clinic, Children's Colorado worked to find a solution. "We did a hot-spotting model and would set up shop with a huge truck in high school, middle school and elementary school parking lots in a few historically underserved communities-places that are essentially food deserts," says Kevin J.D. Wilson, senior policy coordinator, strategy and external affairs, Children's Hospital Colorado, in Aurora, Colorado. "We essentially did a hard pivot from just doing a somewhat-limited in-person service to doing this really broad-scale, delivery-oriented service in the community."
Delivery service met food insecurity, logistical challenges
In addition to changing the methods for addressing food insecurity in its community, Children's Colorado also ramped up the amount of support it provided in the wake of the pandemic. To date, the food delivery service has met the surging demand by distributing more than 140,000 pounds of food-serving nearly 7,000 families.
Wilson says the food delivery service was particularly effective in the early days of the pandemic response, when stressed supply lines across the country made securing essential items difficult for everyone.
"It was a struggle for my family, and we definitely have the means to buy groceries, but it was a logistical struggle," Wilson says. "To help with that logistical struggle and at the same time help folks who may be struggling financially felt like a really good way to spend both time and money."
Moving forward: flexibility, higher capacity
With stay-at-home orders easing, Children's Colorado has shifted from doing exclusively mobile food distribution to serving families through the Healthy Roots Food Clinic, according to Wilson. He says they're looking to retain the capacity to do mobile distribution if it's needed in the future, though the plans for now are to provide an expanded clinic-based service.
"We want to build connections with the families we are serving and let them know this service will be ongoing even if we're not out in the community every week with the truck," Wilson says. "We expanded it pretty tremendously-we want to keep that momentum going."
For more, check out the summer issue of Children' Hospitals Today, including "Glimmers of Hope: Emerging Bright Spots from the COVID-19 Pandemic."