Lah Say Wah remembers the day she walked into the home of a recently resettled refugee family to find a box of eggs in the freezer and a carton of milk on the kitchen floor.
“Some families don’t know how to use a refrigerator, but how could we expect them to when they’ve never owned one before?” says Lah Say.
As a Community Health Liaison for Children’s Hospital Colorado, Lah Say frequently encounters families who are struggling with daily challenges that extend far beyond their medical needs. Her job is to educate these families and connect them to local resources they need to thrive.
The program is one of the many ways that Children’s Colorado is partnering with the community to transform kids’ health beyond the walls of a clinical setting. By meeting families where they are – namely in their homes and schools – and working to address the underlying causes of poor health, Children’s Colorado is implementing a bold vision to bolster healthy kids and communities in extraordinary ways.
“We have to think about the whole child,” explains Heidi Baskfield, JD, vice president of population health advocacy at Children’s Colorado. “Studies show that 80 percent of the factors influencing kids’ health take place outside the health care system. Our vision is to build a network of community partners to get kids the right service in the right place at the right time.”
Children’s Colorado has long recognized the critical role that prevention plays in improving health outcomes – and how factors like poverty, education, home dynamics and unsafe communities can negatively impact a child. By taking the lead in building partnerships with like-minded community organizations, Children’s Colorado aims to create new models of care that can change the lifelong health trajectories of children across the region – and keep kids out of the hospital.
“In community-based settings, you can engage in true prevention work,” says Baskfield. “Supporting kids outside the clinical realm means that we can have a stronger and more consistent impact on children.”
Donors make a difference
Recently, Mrs. Bea Taplin, a Lifetime Director of the Children’s Hospital Colorado Board of Directors, made a generous $5 million gift to Children’s Colorado to kick-start this transformational vision. The investment is being used to establish pilot programs that are already making an impact on local families.
For example, Mrs. Taplin’s gift, along with gifts from the Colorado Health Foundation and the BUILD Health Challenge (a national multi-sector partnership), help to support a team of eight Community Health Liaisons, including Lah Say. The multi-lingual liaisons meet with families in their homes, helping them to navigate issues like public transportation, access to food and health insurance. Early data show that emergency room visits among participating families decreased after working with Community Health Liaisons – evidence that the program helps families to better manage their children’s health.
“This model creates economic opportunity by giving families access to resources, while also lowering health care costs,” explains Baskfield.
Baskfield plans to expand the Community Health Liaison program into Colorado Springs. After that, with the help of philanthropy, she envisions broadening the program beyond the high-risk populations it currently targets to reach families across the seven-state region served by Children’s Colorado.
Partnering with schools
In addition to home-based outreach, Children’s Colorado is also building partnerships to reach kids where they spend most of their day: in schools.
“We want to build tighter partnerships in school settings so that kids can seamlessly access the health resources they need wherever they are,” says Baskfield.
By providing additional support for school-based health centers, Children’s Colorado helps to ensure a whole-child approach to health in the school setting.
Seeded by Mrs. Taplin’s gift, Children’s Colorado will soon pilot new partnerships with Aurora Public Schools. The program will include support, training and programming on issues like oral health, nutrition and mental health care.
“By helping schools to better manage their students’ health, we can also improve attendance, test scores and academic performance,” says Baskfield. “Everyone benefits – especially children.”
Philanthropy makes it possible
Children’s Colorado has always been committed to keeping kids healthy and out of the hospital. The challenge is that most insurance reimbursement models don’t support prevention work. That’s where philanthropy comes in.
“We now have the ability to create sustainable business and payment models for engaging in prevention work,” says Baskfield. “Philanthropy is needed to develop and test these programs, so we can show that they improve health outcomes. If they do, then we can talk to insurance providers about payment models that sustain these initiatives over the long term.”
Children’s Colorado is one of a few institutions in the country at the forefront of these efforts. To truly scale the vision, it will take the help of philanthropic partners.
It’s a complex undertaking to say the least – one that requires unprecedented levels of data collection and coordination with committed community partners. But Baskfield firmly believes that no institution is better positioned to lead the charge than Children’s Colorado.
“Our overarching goal is to improve the health outcomes for children across the region,” says Baskfield. “We’re going to create the backbone of a new care model that will raise the tide for all ships.”