When I got started as a community organizer nine years ago, I was privileged to work alongside resilient, strong, women of color who continuously showed up—who could’ve been held back by lack of equitable access to opportunity—but chose to fight instead. In those years, I’ve shared in more losses than wins, but their passion and courage continues to fuel my own drive to work for justice and equality. It’s the internal and external transformational work that comes from dedicating real investments in each other’s freedom, survival, and collective power that moves me at my very core. Relentless, unified determination leads to victories—and it’s what we need as we work to achieve health equity in Colorado.
An equitable health care system is one where all voices have been heard and considered in its design, implementation, and evaluation. However, many people are currently excluded from these efforts—they’ve been systematically denied an equitable seat at the proverbial table. At times, token patients and paid advocates are invited to participate, but they are rarely given an authentic role where their feedback is valued equally and their voice heard above others. At Center for Health Progress, our approach to building towards equity rests on the belief that people who face daily obstacles and barriers to accessing the health care system, and experience the majority of preventable health disparities, are our source of power and solutions.
Although evidence is still limited on their impact long-term, it is clear that consumer engagement strategies can reorient the priorities of health systems transformation initiatives toward more patient-centered approaches. To be meaningful, this engagement must move beyond traditional tactics that simply consult and extract information and data from people and pushes for their direct involvement in leadership. A recent Aligning Forces for Quality brief says this well, “it is not enough merely to solicit opinions and feedback from patients and consumers--they must be meaningfully incorporated into the leadership of organizational design and governance to yield patient-centered policies and procedures.”
Around the country, there are hundreds of initiatives underway intending to redesign aspects of our health care system, but very few that have prioritized the leadership of community members. One that has is Connecticut’s State Innovation Model (SIM) initiative, where grassroots leaders on their Community Advisory Board “advocate for consumers and provide for strong public and consumer input in healthcare reform policies.” Even after the sunset of a state law mandating consumer participation in policymaking, the initiative saw great value in “significant consumer participation” and welcomed the guidance and recommendations of these consumers with valuable insight into their health care system.
We know that when we center our efforts around those who face injustice at the hands of the health care system, those who bear the outcomes of its inequities, we achieve better health for everyone. At Center for Health Progress, we are dedicated to supporting grassroots leaders as experts in their own bodies and experiences to fight for the health care access they deserve. We are building a leadership development program with opportunities for our community members to better understand our complicated health care system and where they can use their influence to make a difference. This work will push Colorado’s health system redesign efforts to involve community members from the beginning, something we’ve yet to do as a state. I have seen the power of community organizing first hand, and can’t wait to see it take on the health care system. I know who my money’s on.