How COVID-19 Affects CHCF Grantmaking

Mother and baby at clinic with doctor. Baby is looking directly into the camera.
Photo: Jessica Brandi Lifland

The COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting every aspect of life in California — how we live, whether and how we work, how we interact, and how we feel.

That is certainly the case for CHCF. COVID-19 has not only demanded that we operate as a virtual organization, it has also challenged us to reassess how we deploy our philanthropic resources. Here is our current thinking about how the COVID-19 pandemic affects CHCF grantmaking.

Our Mission Informs How We Meet This Moment

Our mission is to improve California’s health care system so that all residents — especially those with low incomes — get the care they need. The COVID-19 crisis is forcing the system to do more than ever. It’s also putting Californians with low incomes at greater risk of illness and creating new barriers to care just as they are likely suffering more serious financial hardship.

CHCF is one of the few health philanthropies in California firmly focused on the health care delivery system, and we will stay in that lane. Three years ago, we decided as an organization that focusing on Californians with lower incomes was our best chance to make a difference, improve health outcomes, and reduce disparities across the state. As we look at the magnitude of the challenges presented by COVID-19, we will stay focused on the needs of Californians enrolled in Medi-Cal and of those who are uninsured.

Doubling Down to Make a Bigger Difference

Much of our existing strategy is extremely relevant to the current crisis. We are actively working with grantees to adapt or expand efforts in those areas. The following are examples of where our ongoing work aligns with community needs in light of the pandemic:

Telehealth. We have major investments and partnerships aimed at expanding the use of telehealth in the safety-net delivery system. We are working with grantees and others to adapt what works and to accelerate that spread.

Workforce. California has long faced severe health workforce shortages, especially in the safety net and in rural areas. The COVID-19 crisis is a reminder that we need every trained health care worker to work at the top of their training in order to meet community needs.

Homelessness. Before COVID-19, CHCF was exploring ways to improve the delivery of health care — in coordination with social services — to people experiencing homelessness. With COVID-19, that body of work has taken on new urgency.

Behavioral Health. Since long before COVID-19, Californians recognized that the health care system should dramatically improve care for people with behavioral health needs. Californians, especially those with low incomes, now face even greater mental and emotional stress. This makes the transformation of the behavioral health care system an even more compelling need.

We are also committed to making sure that California residents, providers, and policymakers have reliable information. We have multiple tracking surveys in the field and will undertake additional research and analysis to supply credible data that decisionmakers at all levels need to make well-informed choices. CHCF is reaching out to state policymakers about their most important information needs, such as data on the health care workforce, and getting them real-time technical assistance. We also are building on our longstanding commitment to health care journalism and strengthening the capacity of news media to cover a rapidly changing health crisis and its aftermath.

Addressing Other Pressing Needs

The extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 crisis has created new demands and challenges for the health care safety net that fall outside of CHCF’s existing bodies of work. We are actively assessing those needs with grantees, sister funders, and other partners. Our board has granted us the flexibility to go above and beyond our current programs to help meet crucial needs.

With that in mind, and in light of the broad range of community needs created or exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis and the importance of funder collaboration in any response, CHCF is contributing to several statewide and community response funds set up to direct resources to the most vulnerable Californians.

Making It Easier for Grantees

We are changing how we support grantees to make it easier for them to focus on their essential work.

To that end, CHCF is:

  • Directly engaging grantees to understand their organizational or individual needs given the current situation.
  • Loosening restrictions on active grants to allow grantees flexibility to direct resources where and when they can do the most good.
  • Postponing and simplifying reporting requirements.
  • Taking steps to offer electronic payment to help the many grantees and vendors who are working virtually.

These efforts to ease the burden on grantees will evolve as the situation changes. What won’t change is our deep appreciation and gratitude for the courageous and vital work CHCF grantees are doing under difficult circumstances. We also are fortunate that CHCF staff are working remotely and are available to grantees with questions or in need of assistance.

The Power of Partnership

COVID-19 has made it crystal clear just how connected we are to one another. At this time of social distancing, the need for partnership is greater than ever. We will work with our grantees and learn from each other as we address this public health emergency together. And in the coming weeks and months, we will keep you updated about what we are doing and learning.

The pandemic will force us all to adapt our work to face this crisis. It will challenge us all to be flexible in an uncertain time. But it will never undermine our resolve and our commitment to making sure that all Californians have access to the care they need.

Jessica Brandi Lifland

Jessica Brandi Lifland is a freelance photographer, instructor of journalism at City College of San Francisco, and mother. Her work with publications and nonprofits such as Operation Smile, Tostan, and the California Health Care Foundation has taken her all over the world, including West Africa, the Middle East, Kosovo, Burma, Haiti, and South America. Read More

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