North Carolina’s COVID-19 Support Services Program: Lessons for Health Policy Programs to Address Social Needs

Lessons for Health Policy Programs to Address Social Needs Cover

Policy Brief

North Carolina’s COVID-19 Support Services Program: Lessons for Health Policy Programs to Address Social Needs

Policy Points

  • As states consider expanding or creating health programs that address social needs, analysis of North Carolina’s COVID-19 Support Services offers considerations such as building the capacity of community-based human service organizations, creating feedback channels for all providers, and more

  • Working with community health workers and community leaders may also help ensure the success of health programs that address social needs

 

Abstract

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services launched its COVID-19 Support Services Program in August 2020 to address multiple pandemic-related social needs in counties with COVID-19 hot spots in four target regions of the state. Lessons from the COVID-19 Support Services Program can inform other states’ and payers’ efforts to address social needs, as well as North Carolina’s soon-to-launch $650 million Healthy Opportunities Pilots, which will pay for and provide social services through Medicaid managed care programs. To study the COVID-19 Support Services Program, we interviewed its administrators and frontline providers across the program’s service regions and partnered with one of the program’s largest grantee organizations to analyze survey data.

We offer key recommendations to health policymakers (e.g., state health officials, commercial payers) creating or administering health policy programs to address social needs in local populations; our findings are also relevant to frontline implementers of such programs. Key recommendations include:

  • Building the capacity of historically underfunded community-based human service organizations to handle both a larger service demand and surges in demand
  • Creating timely communications and feedback channels for all levels of social service providers
  • Employing community health workers, who have skillsets and experience straddling both health and social services
  • Partnering with local leaders and “community quarterbacks” to achieve maximum reach and equity
  • Leveraging technology designed for two-way referral and tracking between health and human service providers
  • Meeting the technical assistance needs of a complex program that involves many different social support services administered by providers with dissimilar processes and cultures

Duke-Margolis Authors

William K. Bleser - Margolis headhot

William K. Bleser, PhD, MSPH

Assistant Research Director, Health Care Transformation for Population Health, Social Needs, and Health Equity
Senior Team Member
Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member

Katie Huber

Katie Huber, MPH

Senior Policy Analyst

whitaker

Rebecca Whitaker, PhD, MSPH

Research Director, North Carolina Health Care Transformation
Senior Team Member
Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member

Picture of Jasmine Masand

Jasmine Masand, (MPP '21)

Anti-Racism and Equity Committee Member

James Zheng

James Zheng

2020 Margolis Intern
2021 Margolis Intern

Robert Saunders

Robert Saunders, PhD

Senior Research Director, Health Care Transformation
Adjunct Associate Professor
Senior Team Member
Margolis Core Faculty

Additional authors include:

Hannah Crook, PhD Student, Vanderbilt University 

Raman Nohria, Medical Instructor, Duke Department of Family Medicine and Community Health and Duke Regional Hospital

Michelle Lyn, Chief, Division of Community Health, Duke Department of Family Medicine and Community Health