Crystal Shen, MD, MPH, FAAP
Public Health Seattle & King County – Eastgate Clinic
Due to COVID-19, many families are struggling economically and may benefit from help with concrete resources. I find that with my patients’ families, it’s been helpful to directly ask about recent changes in their life due to COVID-19 and how they are doing with resources.
Sometimes I’ll find ways to tie my questions into topics relevant to the visit itself. For instance, during an in-person infant well child visit when I’m discussing feeding and nutrition, I may ask if parents are experiencing any difficulties in accessing food or formula at stores and if so, provide advice. Other times, when I discuss the changes in the clinic due to COVID, I’ll then ask families about the changes in their lives. This can work for both in-person and phone visits, and directly addressing change can be a lead-in for conversations about changes that families are experiencing. Through this, I’ve been able to hear about parents who’ve lost their jobs and are worried about paying rent, or about other needs.
I have also reached out to community partners to ask about updates for changes in how their organizations are functioning including which services are available via phone/tele visits and which are available to new or established patients, as well about any local resources (or community needs) they have heard about. As resources may have changed in light of COVID, this has been helpful for providing more up to date information to families. Some helpful things that I have learned relevant to my local community include:
- Early intervention organization is doing telehealth Zoom visits for established patients, and is also accepting new referrals; certain services are not yet available remotely but are in the works. A family resource coordinator is trying to technically support families with internet and access to devices for telehealth sessions, including trying to set up internet connections step by step, but some non-English speaking families are encountering difficulties
- Behavioral health organization is doing telehealth visits for established patients, though not accepting new patients. Prior in-person support services have been disbanded.
- A school nurse mentioned that families can pick up medications (albuterol inhalers, epi-pens, etc) stored at their school after contacting their school nurse, there is a nursing hotline available. Also shared specific details about the school district’s Grab and Go meal locations and drop off sites. Also mentioned the ability for students to check out laptops and wireless internet base stations (hotspots) from the school district’s technology department, as well as information on the school district website for online educational resources.
- WIC staff mentioned most visits are now phone visits, and have electronic WIC benefit cards that can be mailed to families and can be reloaded electronically. Also offered advice if families are having difficulty finding WIC-eligible foods in stores. The WIC shopper phone app has tools for finding a WIC office or a WIC store, and is available to families that are not registered yet, though registration still needs to occur via phone.
The internet has also been helpful for finding out about updates. Many resources can be found on the WCAAP page: https://wcaap.org/physicians/coronavirus-covid-19-resources/
Some websites compiling statewide resources:
Washington 2-1-1 provides database of community resources in the State of Washington: https://wa211.org
WithinReach runs the site https://resources.parenthelp123.org/ for benefits across WA state including:
- Online Benefit Finder: https://profinder.parenthelp123.org/benefit_finder
- Help Me Grow WA hotline 1-800-322-2588 (English & Spanish)
- Email: email@example.com
Aunt Bertha’s network is has a site searchable by zipcode for community resources & is available in different languages: https://www.auntbertha.com/
The Washington State Department of Financial Institutions has a site with multiple links for financial resources: https://dfi.wa.gov/coronavirus/financial-resources
We Are One America is focused on resources for immigrants: https://weareoneamerica.org/2020/03/23/covid-19-coronavirus-resources-for-immigrants-recursos-para-inmigrantes/
Multiple school districts offer grab and go meals. Some may even perform meal drop offs at certain community areas. For a list of participating schools by county, refer to: https://www.uwkc.org/free-meals-during-school-closures
Benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) called the Basic Food Program in Washington have an increased amount of benefits for April 2020. Eligibility and application information: https://www.washingtonconnection.org/home/
USDA has a new Meals4Kids interactive map: www.fns.usda.gov/meals4kids
With changes in income, paying rent may be challenging. Across Washington state, there is a moratorium on evictions of residential tenants that Gov Inslee signed 3/18/2020 and will last for 30 days. Community organizations may be able to help with rental assistance. The We Are One America website has compiled a document: Rental Assistance Resources by County
Staying connected technologically is even more important as many services are being done remotely. Low income families may have some options for accessing internet and cell phone services.
Internet: Comcast and other internet providers are offering no-cost in-home internet service for 2 months for qualifying individuals: https://www.highspeedinternet.com/resources/internet-guide-during-coronavirus-outbreak
Cell phone service: Many carriers such as T-mobile are offering increased data, no late fees, and will not cut off service due to lack of payments. The FCC has a program called Lifeline to help low income families access free or discounted cell phone service. For WA state information: https://www.freegovernmentcellphones.net/states/washington-government-cell-phone-providers.
The Washington State Health Care Authority will provide free cell phones with minutes and data to families with limited resources via WCAAP. Please submit this form by 11:59PM Wednesday, April 8 to request a supply of phones for families in your care. WCAAP hopes to be able to renew this resource to offer to members weekly.
Many utility companies including Puget Sound Energy are providing assurance about not disconnecting customers for non-payment, and may offer financial assistance / payment plans.
The Washington State Insurance exchange is open until May 8, information available at: www.wahealthplanfinder.org/.
The Washington State Employment Security Department has information about unemployment benefits: https://esd.wa.gov/newsroom/covid-19
Resources searchable by county: https://wscadv.org/washington-domestic-violence-programs/
Child care options, including for families experiencing homelessness: https://childcareawarewa.org/families/#whotocall.
Seattle Children’s Hospital PAL Referral Line – 1-833-303-5437
Mental Health Crisis Lines by county:
If a child or family needs help right away, text “HOME” to 741741 (https://www.crisistextline.org)
In addition to local school district websites, this site is a collection of online learning resources: https://wideopenschool.org/