Nearly six years ago, I graduated from the University of Washington’s School of Public Health. A large part of my time at UW focused on working in partnership with recent immigrants from Mexico and Guatemala who worked in the forest product extraction industry on the Olympic Peninsula. Specifically, we were working together to create better working conditions in their industries, which included cedar shake production and floral green picking for the international flower industry.
Importantly, these forestry workers were living in poverty and faced other social barriers, like citizenship status and language. Our partnership approach to promoting occupational health and safety was fundamentally different from traditional interventions, because we considered the workers equal experts in the topic, allowed them to prioritize resources and efforts, and we built long-term relationships and collaborative structures. Not surprisingly, this led to the creation of novel programs, including legal aid workshops and Spanish-language education campaigns, which garnered national interest. The results of our efforts were even published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.
It was a formative time in my life; one in which I developed a clear lens for my professional work moving forward. The way in which I now examine and approach problems—including health equity, social ecology, public health, and more—is centered on a commitment to working in partnership with residents and communities to forge change.
This is one of the many reasons I was so excited to join CCMU’s team four years ago. Throughout our history, we’ve committed to working closely with community leaders and residents toward positive change in our health care system. Much of this work has focused on working in partnership to plan and implement projects that increase health insurance coverage and access to care, but over the past couple of years, we’ve recognized the need to bring this approach to the forefront of delivery system and payment reform efforts as well.
Community Catalyst recently published a report, The Path to a People-Centered Health System (PDF), which provides a useful framework for this work. As delivery system and payment reform becomes increasingly complicated and focused on broad goals like the Triple Aim—lower costs, higher quality care, and better health for all—the perspectives and needs of local residents and community leaders can get lost, or worse, never sought out. It is imperative to create structures that allow for Colorado’s residents and community leaders to meaningfully and reciprocally engage in these initiatives moving forward.
CCMU staff currently serve in leadership roles in a number of delivery system and payment reform strategies across Colorado, and we continually aim to bring our resident- and community-driven approach to the work, but there is much more to be done. Over the next year, we’re planning to work with our advocacy and community partners to craft a more coordinated, more sophisticated strategy to bring residents and communities into these initiatives in ways that honor their expertise and priorities.
I learned long ago that it is neither effective nor realistic to assume that we are any more expert in this work than the people we wish to help. At CCMU, we’ll continue our commitment to ensuring patients, residents, and communities are engaged in health reform, and we’ll also rely on our peers to do the same. Together, we can create a health care system that meets the needs of all Coloradans.