21 Apr White Bird Clinic’s Innovative Approach to Community Telehealth During COVID-19
By Chris Hecht, Executive Coordinator, White Bird Clinic
As we bear witness to a crisis unimaginable for many of us, now more than ever, it is important to think globally and act locally. White Bird Clinic has served as Eugene/Springfield’s safety net for more than 50 years and now leads the way in caring for the community’s most vulnerable members. White Bird Clinic is innovating in response to the shifting needs of our community and offering humanistic healthcare and supportive services via phone and videoconference.
The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new wave of telemedicine with increased urgency. However, too many unhoused individuals and families lack computers or internet, barring access to pandemic-safe care. In response, White Bird is working on 5 initiatives:
- Tech flex funds: We learned Friday that providers can submit for flex fund usage to support members with accessing telehealth services. Pacific Source is making flex funds available to cover costs for phones, chargers, data minutes, tablets, etc. This is still on a case-by-case basis and will be processed via the typical flex fund review process so will take substantial time to implement for each client.
- Providing devices and tech support: In collaboration with the Eugene Switchboard and United Way, we’re going to provide clients with devices and phone-based tech support. The Switchboard is running a donation drive among the tech community and greater Eugene, asking for donations of tablets and smart phones. They’re wiping them and setting them up for WiFi-based use with Skype, Microsoft Teams, and FaceTime. The United Way is coordinating a cadre of volunteers who will work from home offering tech support to clients, while staying safe themselves.
- Developing a telemedicine booth: We are developing a prototype telemedicine booth, similar to a phone booth, built around a large tablet with software for televisits with providers. The prototype is plywood housing around a fiberglass shower stall. We plan to test it next week. Once we have four booths, we will open them up for use by the community, meaning any individual could see any provider. It will not be limited to only White Bird patients or providers.
- Telemedicine testing huts: We are developing a partnership with a local electric car manufacturer to create small multi-use huts. The huts have more privacy than the smaller booths, and can be converted from telemedicine to testing stations in under 30 minutes to rapidly ramp up testing capacity. Testing capacity has been identified as crucial for easing shelter in place mandates, and will be vital in future pandemic response.
- Testing booths: Room.com has donated 4 of their Test Booths, which are phone booths reimagined to facilitate rapid testing and protect health care workers. Once we conduct further validation testing on our current COVID-19 diagnostic tests, we will deploy these units along with our huts to increase our ability to test. CHC’s can apply to receive free units.
Shelter as Medical Intervention
White Bird Clinic has partnered with the City of Eugene, the City of Springfield, and Lane County to develop a comprehensive sheltering system that allows unhoused individuals to choose the shelter option that best meets their needs. Providing unhoused individuals a place to shelter-in-place along with the rest of the community improves public health and reduces morbidity and mortality from COVID-19. Supporting community-wide sheltering in place is the surest way to protect the whole community’s health.
White Bird operates the system’s resource distribution hub, providing tents, sleeping bags, clothing, and personal hygiene items. Diverse sheltering options are offered as available: support services for an existing encampment, motel rooms for individuals diagnosed with COVID-19, indoor shelters, and newly created camping areas on city land. Camp sites and shelters host food distribution, hygiene facilities, and social services upon request.
Serving Newly Unemployed Community Members
The economic impact of the pandemic has led to unprecedented unemployment. White Bird is ready to provide health care for new members of the Oregon Health Plan, offering integrated medical, dental and behavioral health services.
We have also increased access to our disability income benefit program for adults who are homeless and at risk of homelessness who experience mental health and/or physical health conditions. White Bird provides free assistance to eligible individuals in completing thorough SSDI/SSI applications.
Other White Bird Programs Still Operating
- White Bird Shelter System Hub: Operating daily as a check-in point for temporary shelter-in-place locations, tent supplies, COVID-19 assessments, clothing, clean water, hand washing stations, and porta-potties.
- White Bird Crisis Line: Operating 24/7 by phone, providing free information and referral, support, and crisis counseling. Supporting Lane County’s Emergency Operations Center Call Center.
- CAHOOTS (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets): Operating 24/7 currently for an in-person response. Providing back-up support to caregivers at sanctioned encampments.
- HOOTS (Helping Out Our Teens in Schools): Offering mental health support by phone for students, families, and staff of high schools in the 4J, Springfield, Bethel, South Lane and Oakridge school districts Monday through Friday.
- Chrysalis Behavioral Health Outpatient Services: Increasing staff to provide remote support through phone or video meetings for adults over 18 who need alcohol and/or drug abuse treatment as well as mental health services.
- White Bird Medical Program: Offering existing patients appointments by telehealth and providing limited onsite care for patients without computer/smartphone access. We are working on protocols and exploring partnerships for bringing on new patients and expanding availability of telehealth services across Lane County.