Part 3: Mental and Physical Health, Domestic Violence, and Other Key Issues

Apr 09, 2020

This is the third article in a three-part blog series by Mendi Blue-Paca, Chief Community Impact Officer at Fairfield County’s Community Foundation 

The COVID-19 global pandemic has created unprecedented immediate and anticipated long-term challenges for nonprofit and community-based organizations and Fairfield County residents. No sector within the nonprofit community is immune from operational and economic hardships, although frontline, direct service providers are acutely impacted. No individual is immune from the threat of the virus, although some populations are uniquely vulnerable and the organizations that serve them need added supports.

The community needs and challenges summarized in this series have been identified through conversations between Fairfield County’s Community Foundation’s Community Impact Team and numerous nonprofit staff, community leaders, and residents in Fairfield County’s diverse cities and towns. The challenges are dynamic and therefore represent a point-in-time assessment of what is being experienced during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Responses from philanthropy and local, state and federal government to address these challenges are similarly dynamic. As such, we anticipate that needs will evolve over time and community priorities will shift, particularly once we transition from response to recovery.

Based on what we have learned, Fairfield County’s Community Foundation is focused on meeting and addressing the needs and challenges captured below, with a particular emphasis on 1) housing, economic and food security; 2) education and children and youth services; and 3) mental and physical health.

In this third and final part of our three-part series below, we address mental and physical health, domestic violence, and other key issues.

Click here to learn more and donate to the Fairfield County COVID-19 Resiliency Fund. Nonprofit and community organizations can find additional resources on the Community Foundation’s COVID-19 Nonprofit Resources webpage. And for FCCF’s weekly COVID-19 Response updates, click here. 

Physical and Mental Health

Limited or No Access to Health Services for Uninsured and Undocumented: Nonprofits are struggling to figure out what to tell – or where to send – uninsured sick people and many have tried coordinating with local government with limited success. Those who are uninsured – and particularly the undocumented – often avoid health services or seek health services but cannot get an appointment. Nonprofits are concerned that failure for some to access services or testing will boost the spread of COVID-19.

Strains on Community Health Centers: One regional community healthcare provider for the uninsured is hoping to waive their already heavily discounted fee scale for the unemployed. They are also absorbing the costs of increased telehealth services to meet with patients remotely and increased translation services. These challenges impact community health centers throughout the county.

Demand for Telehealth: Telemedicine is a new area for many hospitals and community health centers; however, all healthcare providers now have to move many services to a telehealth model and incur significant costs to do so. Although Connecticut, Medicare and Medicaid typically do not reimburse for telemedicine, in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Connecticut Department of Social Services is now implementing changes in Medicaid/HUSKY Health that will cover identified telemedicine services.* However, reimbursement issues exacerbate the financial challenges of adopting telehealth service delivery models.

* For details regarding covered services, please click here.

Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Increased Demand for Supportive Services: Domestic violence and sexual assault hotlines are busy with people calling not just about domestic violence or sexual assault. Many calls are from on-going clients and nonclients expressing anxiety about everything from getting sick, to job loss, to feeling trapped at home. Demand for supportive services are expected to increase as incidences of domestic violence predictably rise due to increased financial, emotional and social strain on families.

Service Delivery Challenges: Some organizations have shifted from sending advocates into the Emergency Room to meet victims of sexual assault, and instead are calling in to assist victims. Counselors are holding sessions via Zoom or Google and by phone as well. Prevention education in schools has come to a halt, and some organizations have spent time creating online content for schools to deliver to students and families. Similar to homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters are challenged with implementing social distancing due to structural limitations and the threat of a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

General Nonprofit Capacity Needs

Basic Needs Referral List: It would be beneficial to have a referral list for basic needs services that are reliable, including services that don’t require documentation and provide multi-lingual support and information. This would also help balance provider capacity between organizations that are overwhelmed with donations and those that are struggling to provide services. Note, some local, grassroots organizations have begun doing work to synthesize provider information.

Technology and Hardware Support for Remote Services: Nonprofits are struggling to figure out how to provide service delivery remotely and don’t have enough laptops to create a virtual work environment for their staff. Also, organizations need secure email systems if clients and service providers are to send confidential information back and forth, e.g. applications, medical information, income or housing information, etc. Some nonprofits don’t have secure email and are still using snail mail.

Volunteer Shortages: Organizations that rely on volunteers for service delivery are suffering from a severe lack of volunteers due to social distancing, which increases operating costs.

Other Key Issues

Criminal Justice and Reentry: Criminal justice advocates warn that disease spreads quickly in jails and prisons where confined spaces and often inadequate healthcare makes it nearly impossible for inmates to socially distance or practice sanitary precautions. On April 3rd, ACLU of Connecticut filed a lawsuit in Superior Court seeking emergency action to prevent the spread of COVID-19 by reducing the number of people incarcerated in the state’s prisons and jails. Community organizers are also working to get a better sense of the capacity of halfway houses and other reentry facilities to serve those who may be coming home. Currently, there is a push by criminal justice advocates for nonviolent offenders and those in pre-trial detention (unsentenced) to be released.

Racial Disparities and COVID-19: Advocates, civil rights groups and some elected officials are calling for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, states, counties, and private labs to begin to collect and report on the racial demographics of people who are tested for, infected with, hospitalized with, or killed by COVID-19. This data is essential as significant racial disparities have already begun to be revealed in contraction, hospitalization and death related to COVID-19. Specifically, “early data shows African Americans have contracted and died of coronavirus at an alarming rate.”*

COVID-19 is expected to disproportionately affect communities of color who have increased vulnerability to viral complications due to generational environmental and economic discrimination and stressors, including lack of access to quality and affordable healthcare and healthy foods; higher prevalence of underlying health conditions such as asthma, heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, autoimmune diseases and obesity; and a history of racial bias in medical care. Additionally, people of color are significantly less likely to be able to work remotely; more likely to occupy essential, high risk jobs; and disproportionately represented in the uniquely vulnerable homeless, incarcerated and immigrant populations. To date, the CDC has released location and age data related to COVID-19, but it has not released data on race.

Faith-Based Groups: There is concern about membership decline and congregants’ ability to pay tithes or offerings in light of layoffs and remote worship. Some congregations do not have digital contribution portals. Faith-based organizations serving low-income communities are particularly challenged as many members are turning to them for basic needs due to trusted relationships.

Grassroots Organizing: Many community-based organizations are designing strategies to stay connected to residents and local officials that do not involve canvassing or small-group gatherings. Most are utilizing Zoom, Facebook Live, or Google Hangouts. Technical and digital support would be of great value to grassroots community leaders.

* CT Mirror: Early data shows African Americans have contracted and died of coronavirus at an alarming rate

Click here for Part One – Housing, Economic, and Food security.

Click here for Part Two – Education, Children, and Youth Services

Mendi Blue-Paca
Chief Community Impact Officer
Fairfield County’s Community Foundation