Harnessing the Power of WIC, Advancing California’s Health System Reforms
On March 22, the California WIC Association (CWA), Insure the Uninsured Project (ITUP), and Connecting for Better Health hosted a summit focusing on advancing California’s health system reforms. The event highlighted partnership opportunities and innovative models to ensure the inclusion and integration of WIC services and workforce into the health care infrastructure, to advance better population health outcomes, address the workforce shortage and lay the groundwork for the Data Exchange Framework.
Karen Farley, Executive Director of CWA, opened the summit with the day’s goal: to “lift up the value of California WIC as a key partner in California’s historic health reforms and provide a forum for connecting organizations to WIC.”
Several panelists from departments within California’s Health and Human Services Agency joined to express their enthusiasm for partnership opportunities with local WIC agencies in order to improve population health outcomes.
Unlock Opportunities by Partnering with WIC
Andrea Brayboy, CalFresh Branch Chief, California Department of Social Services (CDSS), discussed the importance of data sharing between WIC and other health and social systems, including Medi-Cal, to provide better care for the whole person. Dr. Rita Nguyen, Assistant Medical Director, California Department of Public Health (CDPH) also highlighted the need to address social determinants of health, such as economic opportunity and nutrition security, to improve health outcomes.
WIC is a vital lifeline for many new parents, serving over half of the infants in California. Dr. Pamela Riley, Assistant Deputy Director and Chief Health Equity Officer with the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) emphasized that many eligible children are not enrolled in WIC and shared that DHCS is prioritizing data sharing between state agencies to ensure that all eligible Californians are enrolled.
To exemplify the benefits of data sharing between WIC and other health and social systems, Christine Sullivan, WIC Director, CDPH, recounted that WIC had successfully collaborated on a data linkage project with Medi-Cal to uncover that 500,000 WIC-eligible children were enrolled in Medi-Cal but not WIC. The state WIC agency was then able to share the aggregated information with local WIC agencies to conduct tailored, more effective outreach.
Creative Data Sharing for Improved Health Outcomes
In addition to state leaders, the Summit spotlighted the essential work of local WIC agencies across the state. Priti Rane and Grethel Pallaviccini from WIC in San Francisco outlined their progress integrating WIC into the San Francisco Public Health Department’s EPIC, a widely used electronic health record (EHR) software, which has improved the workflow for provider referrals to WIC and removed barriers to information. They cited adequate staffing as a crucial strategy for success in managing these referrals.
Dana Wagner, WIC Director, Community Bridges, presented her experience working with UniteUs, a care coordination platform, and Santa Cruz Health Information Organization (SCHIO) to develop a new workflow that eases the burden of referral from participants and reduces the number of unnecessary visits. This collaboration required tremendous flexibility and communication, as federal WIC confidentiality requirements regulate participant data sharing. UniteUs and SCHIO shared information through meetings and platforms so that WIC administrators could access necessary information without revealing confidential participant data.
Efficient Strategies to Mitigate the Effects of the Workforce Shortage
Andrea Weiss, WIC Director and Erin Garcia, Director of Patient Education and Programs, Community Medical Centers, Stockton, expressed that they have been sharing their Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) staff for over 20 years. This workforce collaboration allows for RDNs to work part time at WIC and part time at the medical center, which reduces burnout for the RDNs while also improving collaboration and outcomes between medical and social services.
Moreover, Garcia stated that co-locating the services allows individuals to have more efficient appointments, decreasing no-shows and increasing patient satisfaction.
In the last local agency presentation, Gayle Hoxter, WIC Director, Riverside County Health Department, shared a few workforce integration examples. Their RDNs split time between WIC and the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) using braided funding streams. Some of their degreed nutritionists and WIC Nutrition Assistants have also recently obtained their Community Health Worker (CHW) certification, which allows them to meet a broader range of community needs and further workforce collaboration.
Looking Ahead: Utilizing the New Community Health Worker Benefit
The summit ended with a panel featuring Caryn Rizell, Deputy Director, Department of Health Care Access and Information (HCAI) and René Mollow, Deputy Director, Health Care Benefits and Eligibility, DHCS discussing the new CHW benefit. Rizell and Mollow outlined the goals of the CHW benefit, and how WIC agencies can assist with expanding their medical capacity to provide wellness, support, and preventive awareness.
Mollow stated that WIC could expand provider enrollment pathways for CHWs, develop an integration plan, demonstrate how CHWs will work within their organizations, and build the capacity of this critical workforce.