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John R. Moran, Jr. Grantee Leadership Award: Together Colorado

Together Colorado (Back row l. to r.): Sharon Bridgeforth,leader and board president; Jan Tapy, leader; Peggy Gonder, leader; Ted Hoover, leader; Ross Bensman, leader. (Center row sitting l. to r.): Rich McLean, leader and board member; Barbara Hoover, organizer. (Bottom row l. to r.): Eliana Mastrangelo, organizer; Annie Tat, leader; Andrea Pascual, organizer; Michael Kromrey, executive director. Photo by David Cornwell

Michael Kromrey, Executive Directory, Together Colorado

Together Colorado was the 2014 recipient of the John R. Moran, Jr. Grantee Leadership Award, a $25,000 one-time award that recognizes outstanding work.

By training leaders in schools and congregations along the Front Range, Together Colorado helps communities forge their own ways around the obstacles that stand in the way of good health.

In 2014, the organization made inroads with some of the most vulnerable residents of Aurora, home to the state’s largest concentration of people living below the federal poverty line, according to Census data.

Volunteers with Together Colorado teamed with safety-net provider Metro Community Providers Network (MCPN) to reach out to frequent emergency-room visitors. While MCPN tended to the health care needs of these Aurora residents through a federally funded program called Bridges to Care, Together Colorado engaged with the residents as partners in the community.

Visiting each patient individually, volunteers learned that the barriers to getting good primary care outside of the E.R. sometimes had little to do with the health care system.

“The actual root of the problem is out in the community,” says Eliana Mastrangelo, an organizer with Together Colorado. “One really great example is transportation.”

More than half of the Bridges to Care enrollees said a lack of reliable transportation was a barrier to accessing care.

Missing one appointment could mean waiting months to schedule another one; more than 66 percent of the enrollees said long waits for appointments were another barrier.

And more than a third of the patients aid they couldn’t get needed specialty care because of their insurance status.

With information from these visits, organizers at Together Colorado began to focus on two priorities: medical transportation, and access to specialty care. The organization found that it had important help; a handful of graduates from the Bridges to Care program became dedicated members of the Together Colorado health care committee tasked with planning the next steps.

Though Bridges to Care will lose its federal funding in 2015, a version of the program will remain in place through the safety-net clinic, while Together Colorado plans to keep up the community-organizing side of the effort.

“The work of building leaders and organizing people who are the most vulnerable people in our health care system is going to continue,” says Mastrangelo. “We’re committed to that.”

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