VHA Community Partnership Challenge - National Center for Healthcare Advancement and Partnerships
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VHA Community Partnership Challenge

Community Partnership Spotlight: Social work fund provides expedited access to support for Ohio Veterans in need

This is the third in a series of articles about how various VA and VHA offices, initiatives, and programs support social determinants of health—the theme of the 2020 VHA Community Partnership Challenge. This article features a 2020 submission from the Chalmers P. Wylie VA Ambulatory Care Center in Columbus, Ohio, about how their partnership developed a “social work fund” to dramatically shorten the time from need-identification to meaningful intervention.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) provides comprehensive health services to America’s Veterans, and VHA knows it cannot provide every service to every Veteran. By entering into nonmonetary partnerships with nongovernmental organizations, VHA can expand services and provide more options for Veterans, including providing services VHA is legislatively restricted from providing.

The VHA Community Partnership Challenge (CPC) is an annual contest that recognizes local and national partnerships serving Veterans. By spreading the word about successful partnerships and encouraging their replication across VHA, the CPC is inspiring more VHA staff members to form local and national partnerships, further expanding the delivery of services for all Veterans.

The theme of the 2020 VHA CPC is the social determinants of health (SDOH). SDOH are conditions in the environments in which Veterans live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. Examples of SDOH are access to transportation, food security, and employment.

Winners from the 2020 CPC were recently announced, and VHA is highlighting other outstanding partnership submissions from across the country.

VFW Ohio Charities supports emergent needs of Veterans

The partnership between the Central Ohio Healthcare System (COHS) and Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Ohio Charities developed a “social work fund,” which is utilized by social workers in the area to dramatically shorten the time it takes for Veterans to receive social services after their needs have been identified. Under this program, which grants social workers expedited access to funding, social workers engage with their on-site chief of voluntary services after identifying a Veteran in need.

In fiscal year 2019 (FY19), this partnership helped Veterans pay their electricity, water, and gas bills, purchase car batteries so that they could get to a medical appointment, and more. Veterans in need received more than $10,000 in FY19. The partnership initially started for Veterans in Columbus only, but soon grew to provide funding for all five Ohio VA medical centers. This statewide partnership now helps improve access to SDOH for Veterans across Ohio and helps them attain resources related to education, employment, food security, housing, spiritual support, and transportation. 

“The social work fund helped a family of six turn their utilities back on after a period of homelessness,” said Stacy Potts, a social worker in Columbus, Ohio. “This family of six, including two adult Veterans, two daughters under the age of 3, and two under the age of 14, was able to receive utility debt relief when they weren’t eligible for any other financial assistance in our community.”

Jamie Kuhne, associate director for COHS, added, “as a social worker myself, now in an executive role, I know clinical staff are often faced with needs for Veterans that cannot be met using our VA appropriated dollars, which are designated for health care.  However, most healthcare issues are deeply affected by social determinants, including access to healthy food, safe and stable housing, and access to transportation. We are so grateful to VFW Ohio Charities for their generous support, so that we can assist Veterans in meeting shelter, food, transportation, and other needs, assisting Veterans to live truly healthy lives!”

VFW Ohio Charities was established in 2003 as a way for VFW locations in Ohio to use charity funds to assist Veterans in that community; the organization once raised $8 million in one year.

“Partnerships like the one between the VA Central Ohio Healthcare System and VFW Ohio Charities are crucial for increasing access to the SDOH for Veterans,” said Dr. Tracy Weistreich, nurse executive for VHA’s Office of Community Engagement (OCE). “This local partnership has grown to serve Veterans across the entire state of Ohio and exemplifies how local collaborations can spread to improve the health and wellbeing of more Veterans and augments services available through VA.”

OCE hosts the CPC each year to highlight outstanding community-level partnerships, and to encourage others within VHA to create similar partnerships to benefit Veterans. OCE’s mission is to serve as a trusted resource and a catalyst for the growth of effective partnerships at the national, state, and community level and as a facilitator and access point for public and private entities interested in partnering with VHA to benefit Veterans, their families, caregivers, and survivors.

For more information on OCE’s work or to contact OCE for partnership opportunities, please visit: https://www.va.gov/healthpartnerships/.

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Posted September 10, 2020