UniteMKE trains and develops Community Health Workers and utilizes state-of-the-art data collection software to help improve health outcomes and address the social determinants of health. IFF sat down with Executive Director Bria Grant to learn more about how the organization is responding to COVID-19 and how the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) may help them through this moment in history.
IFF: How did COVID-19 and the related shutdowns affect your organization?
Grant: We do work around social determinants of health – training workers to collect data from the community, reporting on the outcomes, and making policy recommendations to state legislators and other stakeholders. We know that where we work, sleep, eat, and play has a tremendous impact on our physical health. If my home is not stable, I’m probably going to have some blood pressure issues, particularly if I’m an older adult. If I have stable housing, then I can better manage my hypertension or my diabetes. This impacts not only individuals, but also systems because there is a real cost involved when people use the ER inappropriately, or miss doctors visits, or don’t use their medication appropriately. Our work is to minimize costs while improving outcomes for the residents in our community. We do that, in part, by providing a HUB – a central nervous system, if you will – for community-based agencies. They do home visits, and we provide support, management, guidelines, and procedures.
One of the things we think about is not just how COVID might affect our health, but also how it’s an interruption in the fabric of our culture.
We very quickly ramped up two programs that allowed us to continue engaging with families – outside of just televisits – during COVID. One was Feed the Need MKE, which is a meal delivery program in partnership with Feeding America of Southeastern WI. Right off the bat, we were doing 200+ meals a week delivered to our residents. That gave us an opportunity to disseminate COVID education, inserting the CDC information pamphlets into every meal box that was prepared and delivered to homes. We also partnered with Rebel Converting to launch Mask Up MKE, a program to distribute masks to homes and businesses. Initially, this was to ensure our coordinators could continue doing home visits by providing masks to the families we are serving. Later, the program expanded to support the city’s mandate on masks.
These two programs worked really well as a way to keep people educated – but also to keep people sane in a lot of ways. One of the things we think about is not just how COVID might affect our health, but also how it’s an interruption in the fabric of our culture. In communities of color who thrive on gathering and coming together, and where you often have multi-generational families living together in one household, social distancing can be very hard. Hearing that asymptomatic children are causing grandma and uncle to be sick of course created a lot of anxiety for our families. So, having our coordinators there to be able to provide some support and some understanding and some techniques and tools for our families to maintain some level of sanity during this time was really important for us to continue to do. I always say: systems have power in dollars, and communities have power in information and movement. Being able to bring those two things together is a large part of our value as a HUB for our essential community health workers and their agencies.
I always say: systems have power in dollars, and communities have power in information and movement. Being able to bring those two things together is a large part of our value as a HUB for our essential community health workers and their agencies.
IFF: Why did you decide to pursue a PPP loan, and how do you think it will help your agency?
Grant: Quite honestly, I was very hesitant to apply. I thought, well, we’re surviving, we’re okay. And I also thought that it wasn’t really for me; I thought it was for the bigger businesses, like PF Changs or what have you. And I kept thinking it would be a lot of paperwork, and I didn’t want to take our bookkeeper off other things. I think this is just how a lot of community groups and grassroots groups operate – if we can make it, we’re good, and we really don’t want to stop what we’re doing to fill out some paperwork. We want to spend every moment we have working for our families and our agencies.
But Darian from IFF just kept calling me and nudging me, and of course now I’m extremely grateful that he stayed on me because otherwise I would have missed out on this opportunity to have some real support to maintain our capacity and take some anxiety off me as an operator.
IFF: What was your experience like in getting the PPP loan?
Grant: Once I actually listened to Darian and started the application, I was very surprised at how smooth the process was. The only hiccup was that we had not yet completed our 990, which was required as part of the PPP application. We are a small community-based organization, and the financial stuff is not really my lane – I know the basics and can get it done, but I’m not always internalizing the urgency of something like getting the 990 done on time. This experience has encouraged me to be more diligent with our CPA about getting things like that done.
IFF: What’s one thing you’ve learned in this climate?
Grant: This experience made me feel like SBA is more accessible than I once thought it was. I really thought that applying to them, especially through a third party, would take forever – and I really didn’t want the anxiety of waiting on being approved or wondering what I did wrong if I wasn’t approved. But this experience made me feel a little closer to the process, and it wasn’t so bad.
I also understood IFF much better. I had heard of you guys before through ACRE – the Association for Commercial Real Estate – which used a pro forma example from IFF, but I didn’t realize you would do this kind of work. You know, often what happens is you see an organization present itself as doing great work related to funding and small businesses, but then you don’t see that promise actualized. But IFF is a real entity doing real things in our community; it’s not just a Chicago-based company with a name in Milwaukee. That was nice.