Across the nation, COVID-19 has caused economic and food insecurity for families. Nationwide WIC providers have stepped up with innovative strategies to support families with accessing WIC’s vital nutrition support and breastfeeding counseling. Many WIC providers have had to safely increase their outreach in the community and online to meet the increasing number of families eligible for WIC due to the pandemic. In 2018, Colorado WIC launched an online referral form, which has only become even more helpful throughout the pandemic. In April 2020, WIC online referrals increased by 85%.
When developing the referral form, Colorado WIC engaged local WIC agencies, health care providers, food banks, and other partners. With client consent, health care providers and community partners can refer individuals and families to the program by completing the short online form. Then the local WIC provider quickly contacts the family to prescreen for eligibility and schedule a certification (enrollment) appointment.
To learn more about how to strengthen the referral management process, Colorado WIC has partnered with the Colorado Health Foundation and the Tri-County Health Department (TCHD) WIC program to pilot a centralized referral model. In this model, the TCHD WIC program is managing online referrals for seven other smaller agencies. This partnership has been critical in supporting agencies whose resources can be more restricted, particularly during situations like the COVID-19 pandemic.
Colorado WIC Director Heidi Hoffman appreciates staff and community partners, “for their willingness to try new ideas to better serve our families and provide more families with WIC services.” As technology is taking a more significant role in the lives of participating families, WIC providers are using and thinking about new ways to integrate innovations that streamline the program, serve families more effectively, and increase program outreach. The pandemic has brought many of these longstanding conversations to the forefront.
Colorado WIC, along with many other states, has fully transitioned to serving WIC families remotely during the pandemic. This flexibility was granted to USDA under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. WIC providers are serving families via phone, video conferencing, and various online platforms. Colorado WIC and WIC families have valued remote service, because it protects clinic staff, pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, babies, and children from undue risk of COVID-19. However, this waiver flexibility is set to expire on September 30, 2020, forcing families to return in-person to the clinic to seek WIC services. Congress must grant USDA additional waiver authority through at least September 2021 to protect the safety of WIC families and staff.
WIC flexibilities are crucial to preventing and limiting burdens to accessing the program. In Colorado, new flexibilities and partnerships have prevented the risk of COVID-19 and reduced the administrative burden on multiple provider agencies by streamlining information collection and improving the referral process for eligible families. Colorado WIC’s new partnership truly supports the public health of families in the state.