Supporting Cancer Survivors in a COVID World

January 26, 2021

Summary

As the COVID-19 pandemic began to paralyze the world, Community Health Works (CHW) quickly modified and expanded its suite of survivorship programs to more aptly meet the unique needs of the survivor community during this unprecedented time. CHW’s long standing Death over Dinner and Cancer Fighting Kitchen events were presented virtually over multiple streaming and social media platforms. In addition, new programs designed to preserve both survivor’s emotional and physical health were created, produced, and distributed.

Challenge

In its April 2020 issue, the Journal of Cancer Survivorship first sounded the alarm about the COVID-19 pandemic’s has potential to “disproportionately affect and disrupt the lives of cancer survivors, including those currently in treatment, those who have completed treatment, and those who are now living cancer-free.”1 The article goes on to summarizes many of the cancer survivor care gaps local stakeholders, most notably the Georgia Comprehensive Cancer Control Consortium, had already and continues to try to mitigate. These gaps include the cancellation or postponement of most screenings and many treatments, the loss of health insurance due to job loss, and the suspension of most cancer survivorship care programs. In addition to the effects on a survivor’s physical well-being, the pandemic restrictions will also significantly impact survivors’ psychosocial needs and likely increase anxiety/depression.

Solution

CHW quickly modified its existing survivorship programing to be delivered digitally. Instead of hosting multiple in-person “Death over Dinner” meetings to allow survivors to discuss end of life planning, CHW partnered with a nationally recognized law firm with a large online following to present an interactive “Death over Dinner” workshop via live stream. The workshop was simultaneously streamed on CHW and the law firm’s social media channels. CHW also modified its annual “Cancer Fighting Kitchen” event to be delivered virtually and partnered with University of Georgia extension service to produce a live cooking segment.

Recognizing existing programing was not enough, CHW also rapidly developed several additional programs to meet the new needs of survivors. First, CHW partnered with a local therapist to produce a series of videos aimed at assisting survivors find unique ways to remain social while physically distancing. Second, CHW worked with local providers to provide secure transportation, triage assistance, and case management to ensure that the most needed cancer treatment and screenings could occur. As a result of this work, CHW began creating COVID care bags for survivors currently undergoing treatment. These bags included an ample supply of personal protective equipment and sanitizing supplies in addition to the more traditional comfort items needed during chemotherapy. Third, CHW stepped up to assist those cancer survivors facing an insurance coverage loss apply for a secure affordable insurance coverage through CHW’s sister non-profit insurance agency, Insure Georgia.

Results

  • 100 people participated in CHW’s virtual “Death over Dinner” event.
  • 80 additional people have viewed the recorded presentation and downloaded the presented documents
  • 45 people participated in CHW’ virtual “Cancer Fighting Kitchen” event.
  • Over 200 additional people have viewed the recorded presentation
  • 43 people have viewed the entire “Maintaining Emotional Health During Social Distancing” series and over 3,000 have seen at least one segment.
  • CHW is actively working with 9 providers in prioritizing cancer treatment and screening.
  • Thus far 36 individual families have obtained health insurance though CHW’s partnership with Insure Georgia.

Future Directions

Based on the feedback received from participants, Community Health Works is exploring ways to bring this and other valuable program to other areas Georgia.  

Community Health Works

Community Health Works currently serves as the designated cancer coalition for 45 counties in central and southeast Georgia and maintains offices in Macon, Vidalia, and Brunswick.

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