Stay-at-home orders in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19 had the Plain Community more cut off than usual from the outside world. The most conservative Mennonite and Amish groups don’t use social media, websites, or television to receive news in real time, so members weren’t fully aware of the pandemic and its consequences.
Fortunately, WellSpan had invested in caring for the Plain Community long before COVID-19 hit, and had connections in place to share critical information about the disease and its prevention.
And since April, the Plain Community has given back by sewing masks as part of the 100 Million Mask Challenge, an initiative launched by the American Hospital Association to help meet the growing demand for masks during the COVID-19 pandemic.
WellSpan Health provided the funding for material, while volunteers from Mennonite Disaster Services, with assistance from Goods Stores, packaged pre-cut material kits. It’s expected that 50,000 masks can be sewn by volunteers through this initiative.
“When MDS heard that we had a need, they reached out to see how they could best help us,” says Jim Shenk, Director of Development at WellSpan Philhaven. “This is in addition to a large effort by MDS and the Plain Community that has been providing masks to WellSpan.”
A long-standing relationship
The collaboration and strong connection between WellSpan and the Plain Community is no surprise to Joanne Eshelman, WellSpan’s Director of Plain Community Relationships since 2013.
“The hospitals that are part of WellSpan have always provided care for Plain Community patients,” Eshelman says. “About 15 years ago, WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital developed a formal strategy to work with the Plain Community and has expanded that program across the rest of the communities served by WellSpan.”
Eshelman’s team met the challenge by getting information out quickly, updating the Plain Community on the pandemic since mid-March. In addition to sending mailers to churches, WellSpan team members connect daily with members of the Plain Community.
“We’ve sent information out to help families understand the public health messages related to this disease,” Eshelman notes. “We also have held phone-in presentations each week in April and May to address questions that we’re hearing when our team talks with members of this community.” Eshelman adds that the outreach is an opportunity to provide both physical and mental health care, using the resources of WellSpan Medical Group providers and the WellSpan Philhaven team.
When it comes to affordable care, WellSpan’s Plain Community Program works to make care more accessible and more affordable because members have a religious conviction against accepting any form of government aid. “They believe in mutual aid—helping each other when faced by any type of need,” says Eshelman. “Through our package pricing, discounts, personalized liaison support and genuine trusting relationships built over time, we’ve been able to help people get the care they need. They’re coping with this just like we all are, one day at a time, and we’re glad they look to WellSpan as a source of truth.”