SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — When it comes to healthcare, Sanford Health wants to go beyond just caring for physical well-being, which is why they recently launched a website to address the socio-economic needs of their patients.

Last month, the health system partnered with findhelp.org to create the Sanford findhelp website. It’s a vision that was nearly three years in the making according to Chief Nursing Officer, Erica DeBoer.

While working with care teams across the region, DeBoer heard from managers that they were spending a lot of time managing community resources to help patients address other needs outside of the health system. So, she began trying to better understand what they were experiencing.

“What were those things they had to spend a lot of time doing to try to meet our patient’s needs?” DeBoer said.

Some of those needs could include food assistance, transportation, financial help for medication, preschool assistance or other social determinants that impact a person’s health. The services offered on the new website are either free or reduced cost and cover options that might not be included with Medicare or Medicaid.

Lindsay Daniels is the system executive director of care management with Sanford and has experience as a care manager in the field. Daniels said that in one-on-one conversations with patients, she often was confronted with issues patients were facing that went beyond what she could do for them in their appointment. This site helps care teams address those needs, she explained.

“Knowing who provides what service when a patient was in front of me and needed to know how they were going to put food on their table at the end of the day, and also knowing that they needed to have a specific type diet, maybe, for the kind of condition they had or how they were going to pay for their medications as well as pay for the food that was coming in the door.”

How does it work?

The website is live and can be accessed through this link or through the MyChart app for patients. Once on the website, you just have to enter your zip code and select whichever category suits your needs. After you’ve done that, a list of resources will be provided with information on what the organization does, how to contact them, their hours, and a map of where the resources are in your area.

When a patient is visiting a clinic, Daniels said they might mention in conversation that they are struggling with paying their bills and it could affect what medication they can afford. In that case, the care team could provide the patient with financial resources on their After Visit Summary, direct them to the Find Help site, or make a referral on the patient’s behalf.

“It kind of weighs heavy on staff’s hearts when they don’t have an answer for patients,” Daniels said. “So, that ability to just refer them to the website that’s printed on their [After Visit Summary] is a great way to do that.”

The database includes hundreds of resources for patients and will only grow the more it is used, according to DeBoer and Daniels.

Daniels explained that not only can care teams direct patients to resources, but they can send referrals to community organizations with the patient’s consent. That means that if a patient wants to be connected to a food pantry, for example, the Sanford care team would reach out on the patient’s behalf and provide the food pantry with the best way to contact that patient and in the language they prefer.

“That puts all of the stress on the system of us and not the patient to have to connect and follow through with those referrals,” Daniels said. 

DeBoer said that the vision behind the website is Sanford’s goal to address social determinants of health and how a person is able to care for themselves. 

“COVID shined a really bright light on the fact that we have a lot of folks with food insecurities, transportation and otherwise,” DeBoer said. “When you think about how that’s been exacerbated, it also motivated us even more.”

Looking at the wide expanse of Sanford’s footprint and rural care, DeBoer said not everyone has the same access to resources as those in larger cities. The website then helps patients find resources more accessible to where they are located.

In the past, care teams at Sanford have worked to find resources for patients but DeBoer says this website allows them to better serve patients and gives them the option to navigate those resources themselves. It also allows the teams to provide resources to patients who may be outside of the communities they are seeking care in.

As inflation continues to affect everything from the price of gas to food and housing, DeBoer says the challenges some patients have may be exacerbated and affect how they keep themselves healthy or take care of their family.

DeBoer added that the partnership between findhelp and Sanford also allows Sanford to address inequity in the community by partnering with existing services that meet the needs of patients.

“It’s really our opportunity to partner with our communities, too.”

Through the partnership, findhelp curates the database to find and verify community resources across Sanford’s footprint. That means anywhere there is a Sanford or Good Samaritan location.

Now, Daniels says that when a patient comes to an appointment or contacts the health system with a question, they will have plenty of resources to help find the answer that works best for the patient.

“We provide world-class healthcare, and we want to be able to connect our patients to the people and our partners in our community that deliver that kind of care as well,” Daniels said.