During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) team working in the WCHD’s (Will County Health Department) Family Health Services Division has needed to continue their mission of educating soon-to-be moms, along with young mothers caring for children up to age five.
As the pandemic approached and came to dominate the WCHD’s work last spring, WIC needed to make some adjustments. Perhaps the biggest challenge came when the WCHD closed their doors to the public (except in certain situations where residents are screened at the door) and WIC began offering their educational services over the phone. WIC Director Pat Krause says that looking back, this change may have been harder for the staff than the clients. “I think most of our staff really miss seeing the clients, and the interactions with the children. Due to the economic impact of this pandemic, we are seeing huge increases in people wanting our services. We are happy that our services have not been diminished and that we’ve been able to keep everyone safe.”
What has helped WCHD WIC is waivers granted by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), allowing all WIC staff visits with clients to be over the phone; with no requirements for height, weight, and hemoglobin measurements in person. The latest waiver goes until the end of February, 2021; with more perhaps to be granted.
In addition to information about child nutrition, development, and education; another service offered by WIC is breastfeeding support, counseling and instruction. Krause says this has certainly continued over the phone, with a team effort. “All of our staff have had extensive breastfeeding education. Rose Stroemer is designated as our Breastfeeding Coordinator, and can direct calls from our clients to find them the help they need.”
For the Will County Health Department WIC team, 2020 has been a year of providing services during a pandemic, moving into a new building, and learning a brand new computer system for the Electronic Benefits Card that clients use for WIC issued food coupons. (File Picture from 2019)
The second big moment that affected WCHD WIC in 2020 was the move into the new WCHD building, next door, still at 501 Ella Avenue in Joliet. “It was challenging,” Krause recalls, “but we did not close for one day. We just scheduled everyone, some on the phones and some helping with moving. And it was loads of physical work; lots of files, office stuff, and phones and computers heading next door.”
Finally, there was the installation of a new system. For many years, WIC clients have received coupons for food. For a while, as the pandemic continued, clients still had to pull up in their cars, with WIC personnel bringing their coupons out to their vehicles. Now, however, once the clients have their new Electronic Benefits Card, that is not necessary.
Krause says that thanks to this new system, not only are clients’ benefit allocations now updated electronically from the WIC office, but there is more flexibility. “There are more options, such as the card being used for infants age 9 to 12 months for fresh fruits and vegetables, or those using cheese, yogurt, or tofu instead of milk. Before it was ‘come in, park outside, and we’ll bring out your other coupons.’ Now it’s just ‘we’ll update the card.'”
The new WCHD building is currently not open to clients on a come and go basis. This has made the phone the best friend of WIC employees, as they offer counseling services to future moms and families with young children.
This major, long awaited change, Krause recalls, was much more challenging due to the pandemic. “It’s a new state program, and we were all scheduled to go to Springfield for two-and-a-half days of training. Instead, we trained remotely for a brand new computer system none of us had used before. Some state staff had planned to come up here and help us get on board, but that fell through too.”
It should also be mentioned that the WIC staff, along with many other WCHD personnel, have contributed their time answering questions on the WCHD COVID-19 hotline, or helping with crucial contact tracer phone calls before the new WCHD CT department was in full operational mode.
“Now,” Krause says, “we all have felt like we can finally take a breath and catch up. But until the WCHD building is fully open to the public on a come and go basis someday, we will continue serving our clients over the phone.”
To find out if your family qualifies for WIC services, call 815-727-8524. For more on WIC programs go to https://willcountyhealth.org/women-infant-and-children-wic/.