SIOUX FALLS, SD (KELO) — When it comes to healthcare, Sanford Health aims to go beyond providing physical well-being. That’s why they recently launched a website to address the socio-economic needs of their patients.
Last month, the health system partnered with findhelp.org to create the Sanford findhelp website. It’s a vision that was nearly three years in the making, according to Chief Nursing Officer, Erica DeBoer.
While working with healthcare teams across the region, DeBoer heard from managers that they spent significant time managing community resources to help patients address other needs outside the health system. So she started trying to better understand what they were experiencing.
“What were those things that they had to spend a lot of time on trying to meet our patient’s needs?” said DeBoer.
Some of those needs may be food aid, transportation, financial aid for medicine, early childhood education, or other social determinants that affect a person’s health. The services offered on the new website are free or at a reduced rate and cover options that may not be included with Medicare or Medicaid.
Lindsay Daniels is the systems director of care management at Sanford and has experience as a care manager in the field. Daniels said that in one-on-one conversations with patients, she was often confronted with issues patients faced beyond what she could do for them during their appointment. This site helps care teams meet those needs, she explained.
“Knowing who is providing what service when a patient was standing in front of me and had to know how they would put food on their table at the end of the day, and also knowing that they needed a specific kind of diet, perhaps, for the kind of condition they or how they would pay for their medicines, as well as the food delivered to their door.”
How does it work?
The website is live and accessible through this link or through the MyChart patient app. Once on the website, all you need to do is enter your zip code and select the category that suits your needs. After you’ve done that, you’ll be presented with a list of resources with information about what the organization does, how to contact them, their hours of operation, and a map of where the resources are located in your area.
When a patient visits a clinic, Daniels said they could say in conversation that they are having trouble paying their bills and that it could affect the medications they can afford. In that case, the healthcare team could fund the patient on their post-visit summary, direct them to the Help Search site, or refer on behalf of the patient.
“It weighs heavily on the hearts of staff when they don’t have an answer for patients,” Daniels said. “So that ability to just point them to the website that’s on their… [After Visit Summary] is a great way to do that.”
The database contains hundreds of patient resources and will only grow as more use is made of it, DeBoer and Daniels said.
Daniels explained that not only can healthcare teams refer patients to resources, but they can also send referrals to community organizations with patient consent. That means, for example, if a patient wants to be connected to a food bank, the Sanford healthcare team will reach out on the patient’s behalf and the food bank will provide the best way to contact that patient and in the language they prefer.
“That puts all the pressure on the system of us and not the patient to connect and continue with those referrals,” Daniels said.
DeBoer said the vision behind the website is Sanford’s goal to address social determinants of health and how a person can take care of themselves.
“COVID shone a very bright light on the fact that we have a lot of people with food insecurity, transportation and otherwise,” DeBoer said. “When you consider how that has worsened, it motivated us even more.”
Looking at the vastness of Sanford’s footprint and rural care, DeBoer said not everyone has the same access to resources as those in larger cities. The website then helps patients find resources that are more accessible to where they are.
In the past, health care teams in Sanford have worked to find resources for patients, but DeBoer says this website empowers them to better serve patients and gives them the ability to navigate those resources on their own. It also enables the teams to provide resources to patients who may be located outside the communities in which they seek care.
As inflation continues to affect everything from the price of gas to food and housing, DeBoer says the challenges some patients face could be exacerbated and affect how they keep themselves healthy or provide for their families.
DeBoer added that the partnership between findhelp and Sanford also enables Sanford to address inequalities in the community by partnering with existing services that meet patients’ needs.
“It’s also really our opportunity to partner with our communities.”
Through the partnership, findhelp operates the database to find and verify community resources across the Sanford footprint. That means there is a location in Sanford or Good Samaritan everywhere.
Now Daniels says that when a patient comes to an appointment or contacts the health system with a question, they will have enough resources to find the answer that works best for the patient.
“We provide world-class healthcare and we want to be able to connect our patients with the people and our partners in our community who also provide that kind of care,” Daniels said.