Grant To University of Utah Will Examine Unmet Social Needs During The Pandemic

There’s so much we still don’t know in terms of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve written about issues faced by small businesses and health care workers and it has been incredibly hard for so many. However, when it comes to families and children, what about needs that went unmet during this global pandemic? What about increased rates of food insecurity, education for low-income families and access to healthcare? How about services for special needs children and adults? Unfortunately, because of the focus on the pandemic itself, too many things have fallen through the cracks. It’s important to figure out what specifically happened. How do we address those needs? Identifying and addressing these unmet social needs is critical as we begin to come out of this pandemic.

That’s why it’s important that we have that data and can fully understand it. And it’s also why, the National Institutes for Health has awarded a federal grant to the University of Utah. This grant will allow a research team to fully examine these unmet social needs as it pertains to community health.

Identifying Unmet Social Needs Is Important

While this grant will look into what happened during the pandemic, that’s not the story. This grant is more about examining external factors that may affect a patient’s health. This pertains to social needs specifically and understanding the contributing factors that can lead to patients having increased risk or contracting health-related issues. This $2.7 million grant was awarded to Andrea Wallace, Ph.D., R.N. Wallace is chair of health systems and community-based care in the University of Utah College of Nursing.

“Health systems and clinicians have long known social circumstances are important, but there’s little evidence about the best strategies for addressing these circumstances,” Wallace said of the four-year grant. “We hope that the results of our study will give much-needed information about how to best engage patients and consider preferences when addressing their social needs.

The unmet social needs could include:

  • Lack of access to housing
  • Food insecurity
  • Proper childcare
  • Financial issues
  • Lack of reliable transportation

What this research aims to explore various strategies for helping patients gain access to these unmet social needs. Additionally, the research will determine whether or not, and to what extent, helping patients with those needs affects a patient’s overall health outcome.

The study, titled Intensifying Community Referrals for Health: The SINCERE Intervention to Address COVID-19 Health Disparities, will build upon previous research conducted by Wallace and her colleagues. In previous studies, researchers asked patients who received either emergency room treatment or COVID-19 about their social needs. Previous results disclosed that while many patients were aware they needed help, they were unaware of important community resources to help them improve their overall health.

Background Notes:

The idea of helping with social needs isn’t new. An article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal pointed to strategies that clinicians could utilize. The article pointed out that people with lower socioeconomic status may have an increased risk of not only disease but also have a higher exposure to risk factors for disease.

One of these possible factors is chronic stress. The article emphasized that a misdiagnosis could be made if questions are not asked regarding social needs.

Some of the recommendations referenced in the paper regarded questions asked of patients. Especially as it pertains to issues like domestic violence. In addition, the author stressed that connecting the patient to the proper resources through community agencies, or community-based groups like nonprofits.

GrantWatch Notes:

We’re glad to hear that research like this will be conducted. Any studies that look at more ways to prioritize patient care are important. We’re also happy to let our readers know about our Research and Evaluation grant category. These are grants for the United States as well as and international academic and medical research institutions. Feel free to look through this grant category and let us know if you have any questions.

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