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Published on April 02, 2021

Helping Our Women focuses on coping with chronic illnessCCHC Community Benefits awards grant to Outer Cape agency

Cape Cod Healthcare, through its Community Benefits initiative awards annual grants to non-profit organizations and programs across Cape Cod who work to improve the health and wellness of the Cape Cod community.

The mission of Community Benefits program is to help address the social determinants of health – needs that are beyond traditional medical care services – through support and partnerships with local human service and community agencies. The impact of COVID-19 on our community makes this support even more critical. Below is a highlight of one organization supported by Cape Cod Healthcare.

If you live in Provincetown, you live farther from a hospital than any other resident in Massachusetts.

That fact is part of what motivates the staff of Helping Our Women. The Provincetown-based nonprofit is a resource center for women in Provincetown, Truro, Wellfleet and Eastham who are living with chronic or life threatening conditions.

“These Outer Cape towns are the only towns on the Cape that qualify as rural from a federal and state public health point of view,” Gwynne Guzzeau, executive director of Helping Our Women (HOW). “The geographic challenge to get to healthcare is real.”

HOW was formed in 1993 to help women living with cancer and soon expanded its mission to serve women in those four towns with any kind of chronic health conditions.

“Our key focus area is to provide transportation to healthcare appointments,” she said. “We provide financial assistance to low-income women in the form of a monthly stipend because there's an economic burden to living with a chronic healthcare condition. That could be used for a utility bill, massage therapy or acupuncture.”

HOW also provides a food pantry and personal product pantry and runs support groups, including a cancer support group, Stay Strong, that has continued to meet in-person during the pandemic with safe social distancing.

HOW staff members can help clients with benefits applications, including food stamps, unemployment or MassHealth. “We work with clients to help them connect to whatever services they might be eligible for,” Guzzeau said. “If we can’t deliver the answer to a problem, we can help connect clients to the people who have the answer.

“We get so much gratitude from the women that we serve. Just today I was on a call with a client who said she doesn't know what she'd do without Helping Our Women.”

HOW’s monthly newsletter includes tips on health issues from Cape Cod Healthcare, as well as resources that can help people feel connected.

“For a lot of our clients, there are mental health and stress issues that are exacerbated during the pandemic,” she said.

A Grant to Address Isolation

HOW recently received a boost when Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program awarded a $25,550 grant for 2021 to help address the impact of isolation and depression during COVID-19.

Gwynne Guzzeau - Helping Our Women - on YouTubeGwynne Guzzeau - Helping Our Women

“It's because of Cape Cod Healthcare that we were able to launch the chat tablet program last year during COVID,” she said. “I saw an opportunity and a need for people to connect. Most of our clients have health conditions that compromise their immune system. I knew right away that social distancing would cause a big issue with isolation.”

HOW was able to partner with T-Mobile to provide a free tablet and free internet access to anybody in outer Cape community that doesn't have reliable internet.

“Because of support from Cape Cod Healthcare, we were able to pivot at the very beginning,” Guzzeau said. “It doesn't have to be a client or someone with COVID. We made these tablets available to the whole community.”

People are using the tablets for telehealth appointments, entertainment and family Zoom calls.

“A lot of people only have a television and a very basic cable connection. If they have a smart phone, it's a small one. This tablet has enabled people, including a lot of the older clients that we serve, to get on the internet.

“We have a client who’s a very talkative, gregarious person but is being very, very cautious because of her history with cancer and some other health conditions. Now this whole world of connection is opened up for her.”

Funding from Cape Cod Healthcare’s Community Benefits program helped HOW launch the tablet program and do a community survey to assess ongoing needs.

“We learned of the need for volunteer tech support. We have a small group of volunteers who are comfortable with technology and are willing to spend some time one-on-one with our clients going through some very fundamental steps around using technology.”

Guzzeau has seen an unexpected benefit from the pandemic in that it has spurred HOW to create new partnerships with local libraries, senior centers and other groups.

“All of us are trying to serve and meet the needs of the local community,” she said.

For more info about HOW, call 508-487-4357 or email info@helpingourwomen.org.