Facing the prospects of mass layoffs after the COVID lockdown this March, Neighborhood Health Center in Oregon came up with an ingenious solution to keep all its employees on the job. Besides reassigning dentists and others to temporary front desk roles, the safety net organization opened an onsite childcare center for the children of employees, with dental hygienists doubling as teachers’ aides. Once the crisis is over, the childcare center will close, but for now it is a lifeline. Neighborhood’s innovation was bold but not unusual: This country’s safety net health system has always been a place of innovation.

The Center for Care Innovations (CCI) supports the health care safety net. Our mission is to work for health equity and strengthen the health and well-being of low-income, underinvested communities across the United States. Our programs are designed to aid people unable to access quality care due to lack of insurance, immigration status, systemic racism, geographic isolation, language and cultural barriers, hopelessness, and more.

Ironically, with the pandemic, many of the restraints that kept innovation from occurring and sustaining have been lifted, which has led to an explosion of innovation in telehealth and virtual care.

In many ways, safety net organizations are better equipped to innovate during the pandemic than private-pay clinics. Safety net clinics are accustomed to operating on a tight budget and avoiding unnecessary care; they are prone to sharing their innovations; and they “are more likely to invest in population health programs that pay long-term dividends across departments and care settings”. To avoid exacerbating the disparities and racial and ethnic inequities that the pandemic has laid bare, systems need to work to overcome the “digital divide” and ensure that broadband and devices are available to low-income patients (NEJM).

Read the full article about the health care safety net by Veenu Aulakh at Grantmakers In Health.