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United Way fights every day to open more access to health services for every person. As COVID-19 began in mid-March 2020, our fight took on new urgency as the virus destabilized nearly every factor that can affect an already-vulnerable person’s health.

Our work to protect every person’s access to health services has reached seniors, children, the unhoused, those in search of mental health support, and more. We believe ZIP codes, income, age, or ethnic background should never be a barrier to quality health services.

Cutting Red Tape for Mental Health Access in Washington  

A year ago, United Way of Pierce County in Tacoma, Washington quickly unified a coalition of community partners to understand the urgent needs of Washington state and the best COVID response efforts. Within weeks, Pierce County Connected, a COVID-19 community response committee, organized 12 behavioral, mental health, and substance abuse disorder providers across the county to identify needs and strategic responses.

It’s called the Behavioral Health POD (BHP), and identifies the need for a single “entry point” from anywhere, including home, to connect people with experts and to access mental health and substance abuse resources. The BHP chose South Sound 211 to act as that single entry point, for both patients and providers. Participating organizations are the top providers of mental health services in the area.

Pierce County's rapid development of the Behavioral Health Pod was described by stakeholders as "the one good thing" to come out of the pandemic. Mental health and substance abuse is often overlooked during health crises, leaving people to fend for themselves to find help. Before that, someone seeking help would be given a list of 30 resources, forced to call each in search of an appointment. Now, 211 can streamline that effort and help more people get mental health help more quickly. To learn more, download this Innovation Case Study created by United Way Worldwide.

Giving Families More Support in Texas

Even before the pandemic, at least three Texas children died every week from abuse or neglect, while more than 180 child victims were confirmed daily. Susan Hoff, chief strategy and impact officer for United Way of Metropolitan Dallas, believes the pandemic’s emotional trauma on families has led some distressed parents to lash out at their children (a lesson learned from the 2008 recession).

United Way has doubled down on its local efforts stop child abuse and neglect during this trying time. The HOPES program (Healthy Outcomes Through Prevention and Early Support) works with clinics, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies to help improve parenting skills through instruction, support, and connections to resources. During COVID-19, it’s provided 368 families with parenting education, and 174 families with individualized support services. 

United Way is also showing community members how to become advocates for kids who may be at risk. These tips include virtual check-ins with parents of young children, dropping off basic items like groceries to help ease parents’ stress, and providing resources for where to turn when something is wrong.

Leveraging 211 to Give More Answers in Maryland

A year into COVID, 211 call centers are still responding to five times more calls than before the pandemic, with asks for help coming in via phone calls, texts, chat, and searchable databases. Franklyn Baker, president of the United Way of Central Maryland, told the Baltimore Sun that 211 call specialists are answering many COVID-19 questions and directing people to “grab and go” sites where they can pick up meals. “When they are seeking answers, we point them in the right direction,” Baker said. 

211 specialists are helping Maryland residents like Isabella. Isabella has three children and is blind. She voice-dialed 211, seeking food for her children after learning that none of the schools in her neighborhood were offering free meals. 211 texted her a list of five nearby food pantries, which she had Siri read aloud so that her oldest child could contact them to get the food they needed. Even in small ways, innovtive approaches like this can help more people get more help, more quickly.

Expanding 211 Nationally in Canada 

Most of us are stressed because of COVID. Talking to a real person who can steer us to helpful resources can make a huge difference. In Canada, 211 service capacity was increased and expanded to serve the entire country, thanks to funding from the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund for COVID-19 Relief. Across the country, 211 is offered through a variety of ways including phone, chat, website, and text. In all cases, 211 call specialists can confidentially help people navigate a complex network of government and community programs and services quickly and easily.

211 call specialists are trained to do more than answer the question. They’re listening for underlying stressors. One Canadian youth called 211 because he was nervous about how his parents would react to his coming out. LGBTQ youth in Canada face 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers. In this case, the 211 call specialist asked the teen how the conversation with his parents might go, gaining the perspective that they seemed open-minded. The 211 specialist referred him to two local youth-based LGBTQ support groups, as well as Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) as a resource for his parents post-conversation.

“211 service was created to help everyone, especially our most vulnerable, learn about available community services and get access to the help they need when they need it,” said Dan Clement, President and CEO of United Way Centraide Canada. “By calling 211, people are connected with a real person who will ask questions about their situation and then suggest programs or services that will support their situation. 211 will be there to help.” 

Protecting Medical Workers in India

United Way Mumbai is helping ease the hardship for frontline health workers and the economically vulnerable as India grapples with COVID. Early on, Mumbai healthcare workers faced a severe shortage of personal protective equipment. United Way provided N95 masks, three-ply disposable masks, face shields, surgical caps and hoods, surgical goggles, waterproof gowns, shoe covers, and nitrile gloves. United Way also gave hospitals portable touchless hand washing and sanitizer stations, ventilators, and COVID testing kits. Because hardships continue outside the workplace, United Way also donated food and toiletry kits to assist workers and their families.

Corporate Partner Beiersdorf Helps 11 Countries Stay Healthy 

As the pandemic continued, Beiersdorf (the global skin care company that produces Nivea, Eucerin and more) ) and United Way Worldwide teamed up to provide targeted support to more than 700,000 people in vulnerable communities around the world. Together, we tackled critical issues on the ground articulating a variety of community organizations in 11 countries from emerging markets. The purpose is to empower health, hygiene, access to water, education, and emotional stability among the communities and thus increase quality of living for all. Some of the initiatives include creating COVID 19 prevention capacities in refugee camps in Mexico, strengthening virtual education for children in Peru, providing food supply for families in India, and more. The video above also spotlights Beiersdorf's support for communities in Russia, Brazil, Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria, Ecuador, Kenya, and South Africa.

Organized Labor Vaccinates LA Workers

United Way’s longstanding labor partnerships have come into play as we collectively seek to help workers, especially health care and frontline workers, cope with the pandemic.

In Los Angeles, Labor Community Services and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (The LA Fed) have stepped up to help essential service workers (especially people of color) access COVID-19 vaccinations. With St. John’s Well Child & Family Center, the partners hosted the “Labor of Love” in February and March 2021, providing vaccinations to 456 healthcare workers, seniors, and community members. The first 300 in attendance at each event also received free food assistance. The vaccination sessions will be held twice a week starting in April.

“Our healthcare workers and seniors continue to be among the most vulnerable in our community,” said Armando Olivas, Executive Director of Labor Community Services. “We want to ensure that we’re able to help them get access to the COVID-19 vaccine and food assistance they need.”

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