Help Desk: A Student Initiative to Help Address the Social Determinants of Health (2019-2020)

Addressing the social determinants of health – such as food security, housing conditions, employment and education – is a critical step in reducing health disparities. Durham’s Lincoln Community Health Center is at the cutting edge of reimagining the role of primary care by screening for and responding to patients’ social needs.

This project team designed and implemented a novel approach to support this effort. Initiated by Duke undergraduates and graduate students, the Help Desk program trains Duke student volunteers to connect patients with social services and community resources.

When COVID-19 interrupted regular activities and increased residents’ need for services, the team quickly reoriented its focus. Lincoln asked the team to make calls to past patients as well as new ones.

Team members recruited additional student volunteers and developed robust online training with modules, case studies, role-playing exercises, database training and Lincoln onboarding. The team also merged with the Duke Student Collaborative on Health Policy to expand the community resource directory with the help of 20 students and a partnership with the Community Empowerment Fund.


Spring 2019 – Spring 2020

Team Outputs

Training Student Volunteers as Community Resource Navigators to Address Patients' Social Needs: A Curriculum Toolkit. Diwas Gautam, Sahil Sandhu, Kate Kutzer, Lillian Blanchard, Jacqueline Xu, Veronica Sotelo Munoz, Erika Dennis, Connor Drake, Carolyn Crowder, Howard Eisenson, Janet Prvu Bettger. 2022. Frontiers in Public Health.

Patient Barriers to Accessing Referred Resources for Unmet Social Needs. Sahil Sandhu, Tyler Lian, Lydia Smeltz, Connor Drake, Howard Eisenson, Janet Prvu Bettger. 2022. The Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine.

Sahil Sandhu, Jacqueline Xu, Lillian Blanchard, Howard Eisenson, Carolyn Crowder, Veronica Sotelo Munoz, Connor Drake, Janet Prvu Bettger. 2021. "A Community Resource Navigator Model: Utilizing Student Volunteers to Integrate Health and Social Care in a Community Health Center Setting." International Journal of Integrated Care 21(1):2.

Sahil Sandhu, Monica Lemmon, Howard Eisenson, Janet Prvu Bettger. 2020. "Addressing the Social Determinants of Health During the COVID-19 Pandemic Ensuring Equity, Quality, and Sustainability." The Journal of Health Promotion & Maintenance (Family & Community Health).

Addressing the Social Determinants of Health (Fortin Foundation Bass Connections Virtual Showcase 2020)

Closing the Loop: NC Healthcare Transformation and Local Efforts for Addressing Non-Medical Needs (presentation by Tyler Lian, Meril Pothen, Sahil Sandhu, Duke-Margolis Seminar in Health Policy & Management, Duke University, April 17, 2020)

Development and Implementation of a Volunteer Community Resource Navigator Program to Address Patients’ Unmet Social Needs (poster by Sahil Sandhu, Lillian Blanchard, Jacqueline Xu, Veronica Sotelo Munoz, Connor Drake, Howard Eisenson, Carolyn Crowder, Janet Bettger; presented at 12th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health, Arlington, VA, December 5, 2019)

Are Needs Met When Social Determinants Are Screened and Social Service Referrals Are Made? Examining the Construct Validity of a “Resolved Referral” as a Measure of Quality (poster by Connor Drake, Erika Dennis, Sahil Sandhu, Howard Eisenson, Carolyn Crowder, Jacqueline Xu, Lillian Blanchard, Rebecca Whitaker, Robert Eick, Janet Bettger; presented at 12th Annual Conference on the Science of Dissemination and Implementation in Health, Arlington, VA, December 5, 2019)

Data Expeditions grant, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, 2019, $1,500

Help Desk: A Student-led Initiative to Address Social Determinants of Health in Durham, N.C. (poster by Sahil Sandhu, Connor Drake, Erika Dennis, Diwas Gautam, Elizabeth Gu, Elmira Hezarkhani, Kate Kutzer, Tyler Lian, Meril Pothen, Anisha Watwe, Janet Bettger, presented at Global Health Showcase, Duke University, November 4, 2019; Winner, Best Poster, Bass Connections in Global Health)

Closing the Loop: NC Healthcare Transformation and Local Efforts for Addressing Nonmedical Needs (presentation by Janet Bettger, Erika Dennis, Connor Drake, Meril Pothen, Sahil Sandhu, Duke Global Health Institute, October 22, 2019)

Implementation and Evaluation of PRAPARE Including a Novel “Help Desk” Feature (presentation by Connor Drake, Sahil Sandhu, D’Nicole Tangen, Nekoba Mutima, and Howard Eisenson, North Carolina Community Health Center Association Primary Care Conference, Asheville, NC, June 27, 2019)


Help Desk: A Student Initiative to Address the Social Determinants of Health


Connecting Neighbors to Resources

This Team in the News

Senior Spotlight: Reflections from the Class of 2022

Three Duke Alumni Named to Inaugural Class of Samvid Scholars

Students Devise a Volunteer Program to Connect Durham Patients to Resources

Student-run "Help Desk" Has Blossomed into a Large Local Resource

Spotlight on Class of 2020

Bass Connections Teams Share Research Highlights in a Virtual Showcase

Showcase Celebrates the Power of Being There

Student Initiative Helps Connect Patients to Community Services in Durham

Meet the Members of the 2019-2020 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

See related teams, Help Desk: Scaling Volunteer Models that Address Patients’ Social Needs (2020-2021) and Global Alliance on Disability and Health Innovation (GANDHI): What Makes Innovation Stick? (2018-2019), and related Data+ summer project, Smartphones and the Sixth Vital Sign (2018).

Members of Help Desk team.

Team Leaders

  • Janet Prvu Bettger, School of Medicine-Orthopaedic Surgery
  • Connor Drake, School of Medicine-Duke Personalized Health Care
  • Sahil Sandhu, Arts and Sciences–Program II–Undergraduate Student

/graduate Team Members

  • Erika Dennis, Bachelors of Science - Nursing
  • Meril Pothen, Masters of Public Policy

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Diwas Gautam, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Elizabeth Gu, Biology (BS)
  • Elmira Hezarkhani, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Katherine Kutzer, Biology (BS)
  • Tyler Lian, Mathematics (BS)
  • Anisha Watwe, Program II (AB)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Cynthia Broderius, Arts & Sciences
  • Tara Ilsley-Murillo, School of Medicine-Family Medicine and Community Health: Community Health
  • Leslie Parkins, Office of Civic Engagement
  • Jen'nan Read, Arts & Sciences-Sociology
  • Laura Richman, School of Medicine-Population Health Sciences
  • Taruni Santanam, Margolis Center for Health Policy
  • Gillian Sanders Schmidler, School of Medicine-Population Health Sciences|Margolis Center for Health Policy

/zcommunity Team Members

  • Lincoln Community Health Center