Sunday marked the beginning of National Health Center Week, a chance to spotlight important contributions made by safety-net hospitals and clinics in Colorado and across the nation that serve all residents regardless of their ability to pay.
Polly Anderson, vice president for financing and strategy for the Colorado Community Health Network, said the past year found centers scrambling to meet multiple challenges brought by COVID.
She said centers in Colorado showed a tremendous amount of adaptation to continue caring for patients.
“And real-time innovation to adapt technology,” said Anderson, “to change their staffing practices, to focus on patient access and safety, and to develop new community partnerships in the midst of a lot of upheaval and change during the pandemic.”
Switching to telehealth – which involved overcoming significant technical and procedural challenges – allowed patients to safely access care, while also protecting staff.
Anderson said all that work now means that more of the state’s residents will be able to access health care, especially patients in rural areas and those without smartphones or high-speed internet.
But she warned that some of the telehealth services implemented during the pandemic are at risk of expiring soon, unless federal policy makers act.
For patients unable to travel to clinics, one center was able to provide primary and behavioral health care to people living outdoors and in shelters by expanding their street medicine programs.
“And equipped nurses,” said Anderson, “who are familiar with the population, who know individuals who are living on the street – and sent them out with a backpack that included technology to connect them in real time to a provider.”
Anderson said it’s easy to point to the technological innovations made during COVID, but she noted it was the staff who really rose to the occasion. Everybody pitched in where they could, whether it was helping set up makeshift outdoor screening and treatment tents, or curbside pharmacy pick-up.
“It was the people behind it that made those rapid innovations possible, and allowed health centers to maintain access,” said Anderson. “That kind of quick thinking and redeployment helped keep a lot of people working in communities across our state.”