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Breaking Down Silos for Better Health

By Matt Guy

Silos are great for holding grain. They are a familiar sight in agricultural communities. They are also a common form of doing business, but with less desirable results. In the health care sector, many organizations are doing good work to keep people healthy—public health agencies, hospitals, clinics, home health, hospice, mental health, oral health, the list goes on—yet there is limited interaction between them.

Working in their silos, trying to improve the health of the people they touch, these groups may not instinctively consider working together to amplify their impact while reducing overlap. Furthermore, health care as a whole often acts in a silo, not communicating with other sectors. The impact of health crosses industries, economic and social groups and political boundaries. Yet in most states, there are few conversations, let alone coordinated efforts, to make health improvement a shared priority in a community.

Fortunately, Colorado isn’t like most states. These silos are being broken down in a significant way with at least 28 groups working across agencies, organizations and industries to improve health. These groups, referred to collectively as “health alliances,” are changing the way health is perceived and health care is provided across a variety of geographic, population and health issues. Health alliances represent a diverse group of interested parties that come together through strong facilitation, leadership and trust to make improvements in the health of their community’s target population.

Health alliances in Colorado are breaking down silos by building collaboration. Alliances are neutral parties, and have quickly become the go-to entities to openly talk about health issues, build strong relationships in communities, and integrate and coordinate health improvement efforts. The conversations created by health alliances lead to action and measurable impact. They share a common agenda and provide direct resources to citizens, enabling opportunities for healthier lives. Given that many of these groups are made up of volunteers or a small staff and have limited resources, it’s particularly impressive that they accomplish as much as they do.

Speaking of accomplishments, the Chaffee County Health Coalition was recently able to recruit a psychiatrist to the area, when individual-organization efforts had failed in previous years. The South Metro Health Alliance has begun addressing mental health provision, providing mental health first aid trainings. The Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership coordinates Community Care Teams in five counties. The Pueblo Triple Aim Coalition is serving as the neutral data hub to track community-health focus areas across hospitals, public health, community health centers and the business community.

The Colorado Coalition for the Medically Underserved has convened the Colorado Network of Health Alliances since 2012, in order to support groups striving to improve health outcomes in communities in all corners of the state. The Network exists to foster strategic learning, networking and collaboration among members. The Network is yet another silo breaker, allowing disparate groups from across Colorado the opportunity to collaborate, raise the voice of collective efforts improving health in Colorado and support each other with knowledge and advice.

Silos aren’t good for improving the health of Colorado’s citizens. The members of the Colorado Network of Health Alliances are breaking down existing silos to improve health in Colorado. Click here to learn more about the Network and its members, and read the Network’s 2014 annual report, Progress & Possibilities.

Learn about the health equity issues affecting Coloradans at Collective Colorado, a publication of The Colorado Trust.