Community study examines Sarasota social services during pandemic


Sarasota, a wealthy community often known as a favorite retreat and home to some of the best beaches in the country, may be less known to some for its thousands of nonprofits.

But Sarasota was chosen to participate in a new community study, in part because of the strong network of nonprofits that exist here.

The study, led by the Glasser / Schoenbaum Human Services Center and a Colorado-based research company, follows a 2017 study of Sarasota’s social service organizations.

This study found that the 31 sampled Sarasota social service organizations received 82% of their trust scores, meaning there were high levels of trust between organizations.

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But there was room for improvement in the value they saw of other community organizations, which meant that there could be improvements in the organizations’ influence, level of involvement, and the number of resources they had. ‘they bring into the community.

Now, researchers want to know how effective that same network is in helping the growing number of people who need the resources of these organizations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The research duo are embarking on a noble mission to try to assess the extent to which social service organizations in the region are able to help the growing number of people that hospitals and healthcare providers refer to non-profit organizations. lucrative to get the resources they need.

“When a patient is released from healthcare settings, they often have complicated needs that go beyond medical care, such as behavioral health, substance abuse or employment issues,” said Kameron Hodgens, director Executive and CEO of Glasser / Schoenbaum Human Services Center. in a prepared statement. “Faced with the pandemic, these factors are becoming exponential. “

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Hodgens and Dr Danielle Varda, CEO of Colorado-based Visible Network Labs, will lead the study, funded by a $ 200,000 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Systems for Action research program.

“The idea that we can just send more people into the community and the nonprofit community will absorb them and everything will be fine, that’s a huge issue that needs to be addressed,” Varda said.

The pandemic has laid bare the essential role that nonprofits play in the health of the community, increased need in food banks To hundreds of requests to non-profit organizations for financial assistance for overdue rents and the accumulation of utility bills.

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But this increased need, Varda said, poses an important question: If community nonprofits receive more referrals for those in need, are organizations able to keep pace?

Varda gave the example of people in need who have been referred to a food bank, only to find that they are either out of food or that they have closed their doors. Or if someone needs help from a domestic violence shelter, but all of the organization’s beds are full.

“Are we sending people into a black hole? Are we sending them to real, real, high-quality services that can meet their needs? Varda said.

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To answer these questions, the study will interview and interview dozens of nonprofits in the region about the relationships between the various agencies, the strength of those relationships, and the results – whether clients received the help they received. ‘they were looking to find, Varda said. Surveys and interviews will begin in April. The researchers expect to receive information during the summer.

Chelsea Arnold, coordinator of the First 1000 Days Sarasota program, said that since late August, when the program launched a digital platform, called Unite Us, which directs people to local social services, more than 1,200 people have been sent to community non-profit organizations in need of resources.

The Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System has referred more than 600 patients to community-based nonprofit organizations and social services. Those numbers are climbing every day, Arnold said.

Health care facilities are increasingly examining patients on factors that contribute to their health besides their physical health, Varda said. Doctors ask people about social factors, such as whether they have access to transportation or housing, because medical experts agree that these factors are more important to health than actual physical health. These are called the social determinants of health.

Varda said that up to 85% of a person’s health is affected by these social determinants of health, such as the neighborhood a person lives in, their access to healthy food, and their level of education.

“Only 15% of a person’s health is actually affected by their state of health, their actual health,” Varda said. “The remaining 85% are impacted by their social and economic needs, their social determinants. The reason people are so excited about it is that if we can impact 85% of a person’s health outcomes if we meet their social needs, it’s dynamic, ”said Varda.

Dr Vida Farhangi, medical director of the Jean & Alfred Goldstein Health Center at the Sarasota Memorial Internal Medicine Practice in Newtown, said there are various reasons for sending patients to nonprofits for help. , such as behavioral support, legal aid, or if someone does not have health insurance.

Community nonprofits help support patients outside of hospitals and clinics who often can’t get the help they need anywhere else, Farhangi said.

Researchers will compare data on the strength of the local nonprofit network during the pandemic with the results of the 2017 study. The study results will show how the network of nonprofits absorbs these resource referrals. during the pandemic.

As nonprofits know, it’s rare for just one of the region’s nonprofits to be able to meet all of the complex needs of customers in crisis. Organizations don’t “operate in silos,” Hodgens said.

Shon Ewens, executive director and CEO of Healthy Start whose organization participated in the 2017 study, said she has seen more collaboration than ever in nonprofits in the region.

“I see our social services coming together and working better than ever because there is a greater need,” Ewens said. “It is also understanding that an agency cannot do everything. It takes a village.

Despite the strengths of Sarasota nonprofits, the 2017 study showed that just over a quarter of the relationships that might have existed between the sampled organizations did exist. This meant that organizations could further improve the way they worked together to help clients in need.

Organizations were also asked how successful they think the community is in absorbing referrals they get for clients of health care agencies. These responses showed that most of the nonprofits in Sarasota thought they were somewhat successful. But almost as many responded that they believed the community had failed or was only somewhat successful in absorbing those referrals, Hodgens said.

With all the power of Sarasota, Hodgens expects those responses to show improved results in this year’s study.

Going forward, Varda said she expects to see more connectivity between Sarasota’s nonprofit network than in the previous study.

“The aid culture has skyrocketed during COVID, and it’s playing out in these networks,” Varda said.

Angie DiMichele covers the Sarasota County Community Foundation’s Season of Sharing campaign by highlighting the stories of people in the community who are being helped prevent homelessness. DiMichele also covers nonprofits in the region and how they are responding to the impact of the coronavirus. She can be reached at

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