Social resources during COVID-19

By Jillian Macklin, MD/PhD candidate at the University of Toronto & Rachelle Perron, RN and eMHI candidate at the University of Toronto

What did we do?

The Upstream Lab worked with the Centre for Effective Practice and the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto to develop the COVID-19 Social Care Guidance. This helps providers support people during COVID-19. It provides a suggested script and questions to ask each person about key social determinants of health: income, food, housing, social connection and protection from violence. This Guidance also includes a framework and approach for engaging in conversations with people grounded in empathy and non-judgemental care.

COVID-19 Social Care Guidance

When providers pose these questions we want to ensure they have resources at their fingertips. We worked with over 60 volunteers across Canada to compile lists of social resources across Canada. We learned a lot about rapid collaboration and managing a team, and are so thankful for our volunteers’ efforts!

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Why does this matter?

The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on marginalized populations. Public health measures aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19, such as physical distancing, self-isolation and the closure of non-essential businesses, have the potential to have the unintended consequence of worsening social conditions that can lead to poor health. Early evidence suggests that food insecurity, social isolation, housing insecurity, unemployment and interpersonal violence have increased. People made vulnerable by how our society is organized have found themselves with even less access to the resources and supports needed to keep healthy and safe.

Health and social care providers come in frequent contact with people who are struggling with complex social issues and are well suited to assist these individuals to connect with services that address social needs. However, since COVID-19 began, many community organizations have closed or altered their service delivery and numerous new resources and programs have been created. For health and social care providers, a central problem is being able to quickly connect individuals with the right resources at the point-of-care.

What are our next steps?

Our next step is an online COVID Social Resource Connector that will help providers across Canada link clients with social supports during COVID-19. The Connector will help providers screen for unmet social needs, identify relevant and appropriate supports, and complete referrals to community resources. Through our site, community organizations will be able to share service information and accept referrals, free of charge. By supporting health and social care providers to address the social determinants of health during COVID-19, we hope that this Connector will help reduce the social harms of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Published by Andrew Pinto

Dr. Andrew Pinto is the founder and director of The Upstream Lab. He is a Public Health and Preventive Medicine specialist and family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital. Dr. Pinto completed his residency at the University of Toronto and his Master’s in Health Policy, Planning and Financing at the London School of Economics and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Commonwealth Scholar. Currently, he is a Scientist in the Centre for Urban Health Solutions at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute at St. Michael’s Hospital and an Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto.

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