When Louisiana’s lockdown began, the phones lit up. They dialed 211, 311, 911. They called friends, families, doctors and total strangers. They connected the scared, the confused, the unhoused, and the vulnerable to testing, to information, to shelter — in short, to help.
Coronavirus exposed a chasm in access to healthcare faced by the most vulnerable populations in one of the nation’s poorest states. The pandemic’s weight strained the bones of Louisiana’s brittle healthcare system, which took on one of the worst outbreaks in the country. We already knew the underlying disconnections — race, income, location, age — that have persisted even as hundreds of thousands more Louisianans now have health insurance through the state’s Medicaid Expansion, adopted in 2016. What we didn’t know, perhaps, is that a tool for bridging those well documented gaps was already in the pockets of millions: phones.
211 live call specialists connected thousands of residents to health and social services via the system’s vast network of providers. And fed key info to those raising levees against the flood of unmet needs.
We set out to document how coronavirus and the state’s lockdowns affected access to healthcare. What we found were people working the phones to keep Louisiana connected, safe and healthy in ways that offer lessons beyond the pandemic. Our series, Lifeline: Covid tells their story.
Acadiana’s 211 call data from March to September show the crippling effects of the coronavirus pandemic on South Louisiana and the diversity of its disaster response.
While coronavirus raged, hundreds found their way to hotels where case managers could connect them with food, doctors and income, often for the first time.
During the pandemic, treatment with buprenorphine became available by phone. And that could be a difference maker in the opioid epidemic.
It’s no surprise most of Louisiana’s Spanish speaking community fell through the cracks, but coronavirus showed just how big those cracks are and what it’s going to take to mend them.