Health and Human Services

Health GIS Initiatives that Align with Federal Funding Programs

Welcome back to this blog series focused on helping health organizations secure funding for their strategic health geographic information system (GIS) initiatives. This installation covers high value health GIS workflows along with ready-to-go solutions that match with federal funding programs, specifically, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). Please see my first blog in the series, Your Quick Guide to Security ARP Funding for your Health GIS Strategies to learn more about how the ARPA funding supports health.

This funding is a big deal – it is the beginning of long-awaited investments in our health care and public health systems. The pandemic has exposed and magnified our technical shortcomings. It’s exploited tears in our social fabric, baring the naked truth of societal inequity and resulting health disparity. I think of this funding as an opportunity to course correct the trajectory of our health infrastructure. We cannot wait. We will not automatically do better in the next crisis just by virtue of our lived experience (the Delta variant has demonstrated that). Rather, we must be deliberate in applying lessons learned toward stronger systems and more resilient communities.

The focus of this blog is to help you identify programs where GIS could be useful so that you can advance your organizational mission while also taking advantage of current federal investments in the health sector.

As a reminder, in the first blog, I grouped the various funding opportunities into three distinct buckets as follows:

  1. Direct funding− These monies are, as titled, directly allocated to all state and local governments for a variety of health and non-health-related functions. 
  2. Funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)− These health-focused funds are awarded through the various agencies and offices of U.S. HHS.
  3. Funding from Non-Health Related Agencies− Several national U.S. agencies not formally related to health are supporting health initiatives through their ARP funds.

I’ll consistently refer back to these buckets as I discuss five broad categories worthy of GIS investment:

  1. Public Health Preparedness and COVID-19 Response and Recovery
  2. Humans in Crisis
  3. Access to Care/Services
  4. Strategic Planning
  5. Health Equity

Feel free to skip around to the areas that are of interest to you. I’ll cover each topic from the geographic solution perspective and offer connections to the specific federal funding buckets most applicable. At the end of this blog, you’ll find a link to a document feature many pre-configured solutions and other resources associated with each of the five categories that can help you get specific in your health GIS strategy and funding objectives and deploy solutions in a matter of days.

Category 1: Public Health Preparedness and COVID-19 Response and Recovery

Emergencies are interesting. They are ‘all-consuming’ events. And yet, emergencies are also a strong force for change. They provide a sense of urgency that can be used to strengthen systems that might otherwise be allowed to become antiquated or disused. In evidence, I would note the tremendous innovation and effort focused on various evolving needs in this public health emergency, from real-time dashboards to human movement data and global vaccine distribution. One thing is especially clear – place matters. The geographic approach to public health preparedness and pandemic response ranges wide and includes (but is not limited to): situational awareness with map-based dashboards; resource allocation to support developing community needs (like vaccination, testing sites, shelters during weather events and other essentials); analyses, models and simulations that provide answers to questions of system capacity and local risk; civic engagement tools that both inform decision-makers and connect people with the information they’ll need in the crisis; and effective communication and collaboration tools that enable otherwise disconnected stakeholders to work together to solve problems.

The last two years effectively demonstrated how a crisis drives rapid innovation. Many new GIS tools have been developed to address the specific needs brought about by a global pandemic. Combine those new GIS capabilities with the tried and true preparedness and response applications of the last two and a half decades. Then mix in significant funding for modernization and you have a recipe for greater resilience as this crisis continues and the next one begins. Look for the best funding opportunities in buckets 1 and 2. For state and local governments that already purchased or wish to begin using GIS to support COVID-19 response efforts see State & Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. Those wanting to develop high-quality modern infrastructure to support public health emergency response for COVID-19 and beyond, see Coronavirus Capital Projects and guidance on grant opportunities related to coronavirus.

Ways you should leverage GIS for public health preparedness and pandemic response and recovery:

Category 2: Humans in Crisis

What do we mean by ‘humans in crisis’? Well, from my point of view, this is the inevitable outcome of that tear I mentioned in our social fabric. Issues such as homelessness, the opioid epidemic and food insecurity are both worsened by the pandemic and make the pandemic worse. People experiencing homelessness are disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and America’s drug epidemic is exacerbated by various pressures brought on by prolonged isolation, employment challenges and childcare/education challenges to name a few. Federal funding can help jurisdictions respond to these issues in crisis mode as well as deliver sustainable solutions to reverse the negative trends over the long haul. GIS provides the framework to respond by organizing data geographically, enabling real-time updates, communicating information to stakeholders, deploying tactics and allocating resources where necessary, while keeping decision-makers and the community informed.

You’ll want to take a close look at funding opportunities in buckets 2 and 3 to advance your initiatives to help humans in crisis. I suggest looking at ARPA under the following sections:

Also take a look at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) Grant Announcements and Awards page and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Funding Opportunities page

Ways you should leverage GIS to address humans in crisis:

Category 3: Access to Care/Services

The articulation of 5 A’s for access to care, developed by Penchansky and Thomas, has stood the test of time for forty years. The five A’s include: affordability, availability, accessibility, accommodation, and acceptability. Despite the years of knowledge and reference to these components of access, it has become clear that we’ve not yet operationalized access to health care and health promoting services very well. It’s no wonder−all of the A’s are steeped in complexity. The A for geographic accessibility, however, is the most straight-forward, thanks to GIS technology. GIS makes it easier to match care from providers, health centers, and preventive services to individual and community needs. The technology facilitates the determination of those needs through location-based considerations of impediments to access such as social, racial, economic, and physical factors. Further, GIS allows for transportation mode to be considered (driving, walking, biking, public transportation) along with average or specific time of day traffic conditions. Geographic accessibility calculations are solvable. That means that lack of access is also clarified, exposing gaps and providing opportunities to intervene.

The idea of access to care is important across the spectrum of health, from access to primary, specialty, and emergency care to government programs and services, to community resources that promote health and well-being, to health insurance organization requirements to deliver an adequate network of accessible providers. Because of the breadth of access perspectives, you’ll find funding opportunities in all 3 buckets of ARPA. The direct funding bucket can support increasing accessibility to COVID-19 resources (e.g. testing, vaccines). In the U.S. HHS supported bucket you’ll see technology investments through HHS to expand health care, especially remote patient monitoring and telehealth services – potential solutions to fill gaps in access exposed by your GIS analysis. And in bucket #3, look to agencies like the Committee on Veterans’ Affairs and the Federal Communications Commission for expansion of broadband and support of enhanced access to care for veterans and for all through tele-health and other programs.

Ways you should leverage GIS to improve access to care/services:

Category 4: Strategic Planning

Every health organization participates in some kind of regular strategic planning. Goals are often focused on improving operational efficiency while also pioneering new innovations that make individual and population health better. GIS can support both. You can improve core functions, manage assets, and enhance communications in one enterprise system and make evidence-based decisions on growth, competition, and population fluctuations prompting service area demographic changes. The geographic approach to your strategic planning supports your alignment to community health needs and service offerings. It streamlines your priorities for service delivery. And it allows you to iteratively make predictions, revise strategies and pivot when necessary. This should probably be the unofficial first step for which health professionals leverage GIS.

There is a great deal of crossover for this idea of strategic planning with all the other GIS initiatives noted in this blog. When done intentionally, its all strategic planning. So why call it out here? I’ve done so for two key reasons. First, its because there is specific data and software tools (i.e. ArcGIS Business Analyst) available from Esri’s product suite that nicely facilitate the overall concept of strategic planning. The second reason is that strategic planning is an evergreen use case for GIS. No matter what your health organization does, you will always have a need for tools that support your ongoing plans. If you are able to make the case in your funding request for the data and capabilities in ArcGIS Business Analyst, you’ll have a long-term advantage moving forward. So…for the funding, include some of the workflows listed below in your applications across any of the funding buckets mentioned.

Ways you should leverage GIS for strategic planning:

Category 5: Health Equity

Like strategic planning, health equity is cross-cutting. Everything about a geographic approach in health speaks to improving equity (increasing access to care/services, gap analysis, improving resource allocation based on need). But despite the ubiquitous nature of health equity in our global thinking and discussions, the fact is that equity as a concept is complex. There is no universal definition or measurement for equity. And that’s exactly why a geographic approach is so powerful – it allows equity to be understood and managed for the contextual factors associated with a place. Equity should underpin all health workflows. Every decision made should be context driven, locally relevant and acted upon in collaboration with the community.

In reviewing the text of ARPA, I suggest using ‘Ctrl-F’ to search terms like: ‘vulnerable’, ‘disadvantage’, ‘equity’, ‘disparate’, ‘racial’, and ‘justice’. This will help you find the specific mentions related to equity across the various funding buckets. For some additional advice and information, I suggest this resource from the National League of Cities, “How to Spend ARPA Funds with an Equity Lens.” I especially found the section on “Meeting the Needs of Underserved Groups” to be useful as you think of the value of GIS. I think you’ll also like this document from PolicyLink on “10 Priorities for Advancing Racial Equity Through the American Rescue Plan.”

Ways you should leverage GIS to achieve health equity:

Get Started

The ARPA funding is broad and has many opportunities to support health initiatives. Importantly, including GIS in your funding requests will not only give you a ‘leg up’ in reaching your goals, but GIS represents a configurable system that supports location intelligence needs across your organization’s departments and over time. Our team is happy to help you leap into a brighter future.

For links to deployable solutions and other resources for each of the five categories addressed herein, please see this document.

My next (and last) blog in the series will focus on examples from your peers. You’ll learn how they’ve applied funding to achieve their health goals using GIS and hopefully leave with some inspiration on how, you as well, can transform your organization.

About the author

Dr. Este Geraghty, MD, MS, MPH, CPH, GISP, is the Chief Medical Officer at Esri where she leads strategy and messaging for the Health and Human Services sector. Dr. Geraghty has been with Esri since 2014 and has led business development and solution development in the market. During her time at Esri, Dr. Geraghty has helped organizations around the world use location intelligence to combat Zika virus, finish the fight against polio, grapple with the opioid crisis, combat homelessness, enhance health preparedness and response, inform strategic planning, optimize healthcare access, and traverse the COVID-19 pandemic while tackling inequity. Formerly the Deputy Director of the Center for Health Statistics and Informatics with the California Department of Public Health, Dr. Geraghty led the state vital records and public health informatics programs. There she engaged in statewide initiatives in meaningful use, health information exchange, open data and interoperability. While serving as an Associate Professor of Clinical Internal Medicine at the University of California at Davis she conducted research on geographic approaches to influencing health policy and advancing community development programs. In addition to her degrees in Medicine, Medical Informatics and Public Health, Dr. Geraghty is also a board-certified public health professional (CPH) and a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP).


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