New Orleans team asks ‘What do you need?’

The COVID-19 crisis is a growing challenge in New Orleans, but partnerships already established to address community disaster preparedness and social determinants of health were able to pivot to the immediate needs created by the state’s stay-at-home orders.

Amy Blaylock, Market Development Advisor for Humana’s Bold Goal in New Orleans, said she and city health department head Dr. Jennifer Avegno had a good working relationship before the event and, in fact, had been working on developing a collaborative group of government, community-based organizations, health systems and health insurers to work together on one community health improvement plan.

The city health department and health systems had each just completed a community needs assessment, so the timing was right to co-create a community health improvement plan (CHIP). The group began forming in the fall with a stakeholder meeting to share the city’s results from the assessment. In early 2020, the Health Department work group meetings were developing to integrate and further collaborate.

“In early January, we had one of our first collaborative meetings to put that together, and Dr. Avegno had a wonderful structure in mind; then the coronavirus pandemic happened,” Blaylock said. “The collaborative CHIP development might be on hold, but the connections were formed and the willingness to work together was established – really the collaboration continues.”

As the point person in New Orleans for Humana’s Bold Goal team, Blaylock works within the community to address social determinants of health and health-related social needs. Humana’s Bold Goal is to convene and co-create solutions with nonprofit organizations, government and business leaders, as well as physicians, clinicians and hospital systems to address issues like loneliness, social isolation and food insecurity.

These needs became acute in recent weeks as residents found themselves even more isolated and some without income they depended on.

Knowing this, Humana pledged to infuse financial support into community efforts. Working with local government and business leaders, Humana committed $50,000 to COVID-19 relief in New Orleans and asked other businesses to match the donation to reach those most in need during this crisis.

In New Orleans, the established relationships helped to direct funds to dedicated groups organizing and distributing to meet needs. Blaylock said financial support went to:

  • The Hospitality Cares Pandemic Fund, formed by United Way of Southeast Louisiana and Louisiana Hospitality Association. The fund provides crisis grants to hospitality workers who are unable to afford basic financial needs during the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • HandsOn New Orleans, which provides a free meal delivery service to home-bound, low-income seniors and chronically-ill residents, who are at a greater risk of severe illness if exposed to COVID-19.
  • The Broadmoor Improvement Association, which runs and is expanding its food pantry to deliver meals to seniors in their neighborhood. It’s working with local restaurants to extend meal delivery to Saturdays, and it’s partnering with Gladewaves to distribute meals to seniors.

She said many of the organizations are coming up with creative ways to meet needs. Because New Orleans is under a stay-at-home order, restaurants were able to pitch in, contracting with agencies to deliver food to front line workers.

“It’s a different way of thinking, what do we do now?” Blaylock said. “We had one conversation with our city government partner on how do we now take the opportunity to get the food distributors for restaurants to supply the nonprofits? If big box stores are having trouble with supplying their shelves, they have even more difficulty donating food to the nonprofits, so those are the kind of things we’re thinking through right now.

“As you figure out what the need is, you have to think about bringing in the right players to make the connections. Who is the right connector? How can we help you do what you do?”

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