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An overview of the

Pennsylvania WIC Stakeholders Collaborative Summit

 

Thank you for being a part of the first collaborative statewide WIC summit hosted by the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation on October 14 and 15. The Summit was split into four webinars over two days and attracted a total of 321 attendees from different health and human services sectors across Pennsylvania. The webinars highlighted innovative best practice models from across the country that have proven effective during the COVID-19 pandemic and identified strategies to advocate and apply these best practices in the different regions of Pennsylvania.

Webinar I: Comprehensive Overview of the WIC Program

Karen Feinstein, President and CEO of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation and co-chair of the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative, kicked off and moderated the first webinar. She highlighted the great potential for the WIC program to improve maternal and child health outcomes. Karen also emphasized the role of stakeholder collaboration in strengthening the WIC program in Pennsylvania, noting that PA can draw on best practices from other states, like New Jersey and Maryland. Summit attendees heard from the state WIC Director William Cramer, who provided a comprehensive overview of Pennsylvania’s response during the pandemic and plans for future improvement of the Pennsylvania WIC program. Darlena Birch, Senior Public Health Nutritionist at National WIC Association, provided insights on the WIC landscape, describing the connection between the WIC program and other social and health service programs that target the wellbeing of mothers and their families.

This session also included lessons learned from the pandemic. Zachariah Hennessey, Vice President of Neighborhood Health at Public Health Solutions in New York, shared how Public Health Solutions managed to continue serving WIC families during the pandemic while addressing challenges. The following panel of WIC Directors included regional representatives from across Pennsylvania: Filomena Ahlefeld from the Foundation for Delaware County, Dr. Linda M. Kilby from North, Inc. in Philadelphia and Melissa Bishop from Family Health Council of Central PA, who shared the tremendous work they have done and how they navigated innovative strategies to continue serving WIC families through the pandemic.

Webinar II: EBT Implementation During COVID-19: Lessons Learned

The second webinar, moderated by Maria Pulzetti, the Staff Attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, featured Ruth Morgan, USDA’s Social Science Research Analyst, who shared USDA-funded innovation initiatives to promote data sharing and improve outreach efforts and WIC services. We heard about state best practices for using data to improve WIC, presented by Jessica Maneely, the Policy Manager at Benefits Data Trust. This included a special feature from the Massachusetts Department of Health WIC by Mary Blocksidge, the Vendor Manager for Massachusetts WIC Nutrition Program, who shared how Massachusetts uses EBT data sharing between WIC agencies and vendors to improve WIC services. Mary explained that Massachusetts has found data matching and text outreach to be sustainable strategies in WIC because they enhance participation and improve client experience. The session closed with a presentation from Allies for Children’s Health Policy Coordinator, Laura Stephany, who described ongoing efforts in Pennsylvania, including a data workgroup that collaborates with the state to inform stakeholders on participation data.

Webinar III: Using EBT and WIC Data to Improve WIC Services at the State, Local and Clinic Level

Laura Stephany also moderated the third webinar. Kathleen Hiltwine, the State WIC Public Health Nutrition Consultant, described current and planned efforts to promote eWIC technologies in Pennsylvania. Attendees then learned of national best practices and an assessment of how COVID-19 has changed the use of telehealth, presented by Noora Kanfash, the State Public Policy Associate at National WIC Association. This was followed by a presentation from the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities’ policy analyst, Zoë Neuberger, who shared ongoing initiatives and grants to improve technological innovation in WIC and effective strategies for electronic documentation exchange based on studies she has conducted with different states.

Webinar IV: Using Technology and Telehealth to Improve Recruitment and Retention of WIC Participants

The summit was wrapped up with the fourth webinar, which aimed to spark stakeholder collaboration and capture take home highlights about how stakeholders can work together to support the WIC program in providing wrap-around services to WIC families. USDA Director of the Special Nutrition Programs for FNS’s Mid-Atlantic Region Roberta Hodsdon shared information on existing USDA grant opportunities available to facilitate collaboration in addition to telehealth grants, breastfeeding support grants for which Pennsylvania is a recipient, WIC special projects innovation grants and WIC online ordering grants. Geraldine Henchy, FRAC’s Director of Nutrition Policy and Early Childhood Programs, pointed out that Pennsylvania WIC ranks 38th in terms of participation and praised our ongoing WIC collaborative efforts as a great step towards improving our WIC program and nutrition services for women and children in general. Pennsylvania WIC Association’s President Carrie Dinsmore emphasized WIC’s role in strengthening the health and wellbeing of mothers and their families. Their discussion, moderated by Robert Ferguson, the Chief Policy Officer at the Jewish Healthcare Foundation, included thoughts on increasing and retaining federal funding for WIC as well as ways to tap into the existing resources across different health and social service sectors, to ensure that WIC provides comprehensive wrap-around services to mothers and their families.

Ann Torregrossa, the Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Health Funders Collaborative, gave closing remarks and emphasized that collaboration is essential if we are to prevent the PA WIC program from going into a death spiral. She described needs to improve transparent data sharing, maximize resources, and streamline enrollment in order to draw down necessary federal funding to get the program back on the right track. She asked everyone working to support women, children and families to stay involved in the WIC Stakeholders’ Collaborative. We had great participation from the attendees, who demonstrated enthusiasm to promote WIC. There were several requests from healthcare providers to get access to WIC flyers and brochures to include in their offices for potential eligible clients.

Additional Resources

Recordings and presentation slides