by Diana Dahl
The sheer scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is upending our systems and assumptions. This disruption is forcing change, and in some cases, the opportunity to rapidly implement ideas that have been on our minds for many years.
- With doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers facing immense demands without adequate resources, hospitals have found new ways to communicate and share resources; technology is being harnessed to deliver care; and philanthropy and the private sector are partnering with public agencies to tackle the pandemic in unique ways, from research to resources to service delivery.
- The burdens of front-line work, necessity of social isolation, and unprecedented unemployment have increased the need for mental health crisis support, which drives a wider understanding of the need for mental health care coverage and its importance to overall well-being.
- California has struggled for years to meaningfully address its homeless crisis, but the need to flatten the curve of new disease incidents has forced rapid adoption of outreach and engagement strategies as well as programs like Project Roomkey that change the way shelter is provided.
- While being dramatically overburdened, social service agencies are figuring out how to deliver services remotely, which removes historic barriers such as transportation and childcare.
- Though bail reform initiatives that promote greater equity throughout state justice systems have made recent progress, COVID-19 has accelerated and broadened thinking about eligibility for release.
- While food insecurity and the digital divide have plagued public school students for generations, the necessity for school closures has driven large-scale distribution of laptops and internet hotspots and rapid deployment of expanded food programs to address needs of low-income communities. Also, the utilization of online curricula and state considerations for reopening schools with drastically reduced classroom sizes both offer the potential for more individualized and differentiated learning experiences for students.
The outcomes of these initial strategies have yet to be measured, and there is much to be learned to guide ongoing refinements. COVID-19 places a spotlight on historical disparities in communities of color and other vulnerable populations, highlighting the importance of data to drive decision-making and ongoing, clear communication with a broad range of stakeholders. Further, the demands of the COVID-19 response will require careful evaluation of resources and investments, compelling hard choices between chipping away at current programs or full-scale re-imagining of public systems. Although there is a long road ahead in our collective battle against COVID-19 and its social and economic impacts, we can choose to use a lens that both focuses on immediate needs and envisions a future that brings positive social change.
This is an opportunity for action. We can work together to make strategic choices that help ensure our public systems innovate, continue to provide critical services to vulnerable populations, and once again thrive. At RDA, we commit to continuing to support public systems and their stakeholders as they adapt through this crisis. Please contact us if you would like support in finding your silver linings, making the best investments with your resources, and advancing your own best ideas.