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Informing Policy. Advancing Health.

Taking the Time for Colorado’s Safety Net

August 11, 2015

Given the daily demands of working in the health care system, it is easy to develop tunnel vision.

When I volunteer at the DAWN clinic, the student-run safety net clinic in Aurora, I focus on serving the immediate needs of the patients. Outside of the clinic, my focus is on surviving medical school.

So before my work this summer at the Colorado Health Institute (CHI), I had not spent much time thinking about the big picture issues and challenges of Colorado’s health care safety net.

For National Health Center Week this week and Safety Net Clinic Week next week, CHI has put together new materials that highlight the issues and challenges of Colorado’s safety net clinics.

The updated 2015 Safety Net Primer gives a brief recap of some of the big news for clinics over the past year, such as new funding. It also explains the elements of Colorado’s health care safety net, including who uses its services and how the system is funded — crucial information in a rapidly-changing world.

In Managing the Growing Pains: Medicaid Expansion and Colorado’s Safety Net, CHI takes a closer look at how the safety net clinics have been affected by Colorado’s Medicaid expansion in January 2014. I interviewed five safety net clinics across the state about the growing pains resulting from the new Medicaid clients. This influx of insured patients has magnified many of the old challenges, such as care coordination and health literacy, as well as created some new ones like working with a larger Medicaid system.   

Developing these materials has made me more aware of how important it is as a volunteer at a safety net clinic and a medical student to know what Colorado’s safety net looks like, how it works and how it is changing.

The safety net is composed of many pieces. While each part can act independently, it is necessary for them to come together and to learn from each other in order to develop solutions to common challenges.

Yet it can be hard to bring the clinics together. Free time feels like a myth for people who work at a clinic like DAWN. There is always something that needs to be done just to keep the clinic running. However, to improve and better serve the local community as well as the greater Colorado community, clinics need to make the time to be informed about the challenges, successes and goals of their partners in the safety net.

Also, those who develop, write and implement policy need to be aware of how the safety net is functioning and evolving so they can serve their communities’ health needs and support the work of the clinics.

Developing this awareness can be as easy as taking the time during these next two weeks to read CHI’s safety net clinic materials, visit the clinics and ask them how they provide care for the medically underserved in their community.