Northeast Indiana researchers reveal urgent needs during the pandemic

Originally posted on Input Fort Wayne 5/6/2020

If there’s one thing that holds true about the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s that information, guidelines, restrictions, and conditions are changing day-by-day. So for foundations and organizations trying to provide relief, understanding the community’s most urgent needs is like trying to hit a moving target.

To cope with the transient nature of this reality, local leaders have been collaborating and working quickly to conduct community needs assessment surveys, so they have real-time data to help them make critical decisions. And the effort began before the COVID-19 pandemic even hit Fort Wayne.

In early March, Allen County Health Commissioner Dr. Deborah McMahan enlisted the help of the Parkview Mirro Center for Research and Innovation, as well as other community stakeholders to develop and conduct a community preparedness survey. The goal of this survey was to determine what people in Northeast Indiana were most concerned about as the pandemic began, and what their top needs were, says Tammy Toscos, Director of Health Services & Informatics Research, at the Mirro Center.

To make the survey as well-thought-out as possible, the effort was highly inclusive. A Committee Advisory Group of more than 180 people came together on March 3 at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, representing local businesses, social service agencies, foundations, first responders, schools, government agencies, and healthcare providers alike.

During the meeting, the Allen County Department of Health and other healthcare experts gave a situation update on the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and discussed with community leaders how to minimize potential negative health, safety, and economic impacts.

The group also outlined the needs to be assessed in the initial, high-level community survey.

According to Toscos, while the team sought input from leaders of all types interested in community preparedness, the main “customer” or end-user of the survey was foundations and nonprofit groups wanting to make data-driven decisions on how to direct their resources efficiently during the pandemic.

Meg Distler, Executive Director of the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation, explains that the survey has been extremely useful in helping leaders like herself prioritize what to do with limited time and funding.

After all, the COVID-19 pandemic impacts everyone financially—including foundations—many of which have lost money in their endowments.

“We are trying to stretch ourselves thin, but be very responsible with our dollars,” Distler says. “So the survey was important in that it allowed funders and nonprofits to respond and find creative ways to continue serving our constituents.”…