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From Our CEO

August 28, 2012

Finding Hope for Improving Health Amidst Tragedy

Like many other Coloradans, I have struggled over the past weeks – both professionally and personally - to come to terms with the Aurora theater shootings.

What can we make of this tragedy from a health policy perspective?  I represent an organization charged with making Colorado a healthy state for all of us. What does this say about our work?  But mostly I have struggled as a mom. What do I share with my 12-year-old daughter and my 13-year-old son? They are too old to be protected from the randomized horror and too young to abandon their youthful innocence and optimism about the world. 

So you might be surprised to learn that I have actually been heartened by recent news of the events leading up to the nightmarish night of July 20.  We are learning from media coverage and legal proceedings about James Holmes’ encounters with the health system at the university, his earlier demonstrations of anger and his history of escalating threats. 

Why am I heartened? Because it gives us a place to start.

I sit in meetings every day that focus on improving the health care delivery system for all Coloradans.  We talk a lot about the need to integrate behavioral and physical health services. We discuss how we can train our primary care workforce to screen for mental health issues.  We examine the inadequacy of the current system.  We conceptualize ideas, measurements and systems to make it better, to make our health care system work  in an efficient and coordinated fashion.  Behavioral health routinely emerges as an issue where we need to do more.

The state, in an initiative led by Governor Hickenlooper’s office, has the opportunity to tackle the integration of behavioral and physical health in a meaningful way. This month, stakeholders, leaders and administrators are applying for a federal State Innovation Model (SIM) grant to align, test and evaluate statewide efforts to transform the health care payment and delivery systems. Colorado is focusing its SIM proposal on better and more fully integrating behavioral health into primary medical care. The proposed project will incorporate public health as well as engage public and private insurers across the state with the express goal of behavioral health integration. 

While we can never tie the act of one unstable individual to the entire health system, Colorado’s SIM proposal offers us the opportunity to think through a better system.  A system that can help all Coloradans become healthier.  Plus, it gives me hope in my conversations with my kids.

We are not just random victims of insane acts. Working together, we have the power to help stop these tragedies.