An Interview with Catherine Strode
Karen McNeil-Miller, President and CEO of The Colorado Health Foundation, readily admits to three “guilty pleasures”: french fries, wine, and her shoe collection. In fact, she invited all of the more than 500 attendees of the 2016 annual Health Symposium to openly call out their own personal ‘guilty pleasures.’ That public invitation is symbolic of the movement she is leading to make everyone consider their health decisions in connection with community, in the spirit of making health everybody’s business. In an interview with Catherine Strode, Karen McNeil-Miller discussed the Foundation’s ‘movement’ and how it is reshaping Colorado’s health care landscape.
How do you define the ‘movement’ of making health everyone’s business?
“The movement that broadens the definition of health and broadens who thinks they are in the health business. If we can get every profession to see what are the potential health outcomes of the work we do, and get more people mindful about it, then over time I want that movement where health is at the top of everybody’s mind. Everybody believes it’s their business and they behave as if it’s their business. They don’t think that it is just for the health care professionals. I want everyone to think about health being part of what they do, whether they are employed or not. You should be thinking about the health of your community through the elected officials you have, through the voice you have in civic groups, the voice you have at your child’s school. If everyone could think about the access they have to systems and people every day, they could advocate for the best interests of their family’s health and their community’s health.”
How is the Foundation making health everybody’s business?
“Within the foundation we’re not just talking about health care. We keep reminding people we’re not The Colorado Health CARE Foundation; we’re The Colorado HEALTH Foundation. Let’s talk about what health means. If health is about mind, body, and spirit, then where can we bring our resources to bear? We’re talking with communities about what does it mean to have a healthy community. A healthy community is not just physical health, but economic health, civic health, a healthy education system, a healthy government system. All of those things together create the health of a community. We’re starting to talk about those things in much more detail and more specifically with communities directly.”
How has the statewide listening tour impacted the Foundation’s focus?
“The listening tour certainly confirmed a lot of the effort and work the Foundation is already engaged in: access to care, the importance of health insurance. I think it will also move us more to think about how we engage in the arena of affordable health care. A lot of people have access to it but it’s not affordable. There’s an urban and rural equity issue around access to care. We need to do more around the stigma issue that people don’t feel ashamed to say they are struggling with some kind of mental issue or substance abuse. Finally, we heard a lot about what’s commonly referred to as the social determinants of health. Those are all those things that are outside the doctor’s office: where people live, how much money they make, how robust their educational system is, how much stress the family is under. There are racial disparities across the state. It’s refugee populations in some counties that may be suffering the disparity. It could be a heavy Hispanic population in the south east where the disparities are great. When we talk about inequities we’re talking about differences that are only explained by race, or socioeconomic status, or zip code. We’ll be looking for where we can best utilize our resources because that’s such a broad arena. We’ve got to take some time to focus on where we could have an impact that would be sustainable over generations.”
Is the Foundation undergoing a cultural shift?
“I think it would be natural for us to have a culture shift at this point because for the first ten years we were growing. Every year it was trying to figure out what new systems we needed. We were growing to the size we are now. Every year was a growth year. Every year was a year of significant change. Now we’re at the size we’re going to be for quite some time. The health landscape has changed over ten years. It would be unusual and detrimental if there wasn’t a change at this point because we’ve got a different landscape. The ACA (Affordable Care Act) had not been in effect then. We know so much more now about toxic stress on families. We know so much more about how kids’ brains develop. Yes. We should be growing and changing and developing. In another six or seven years, hopefully there will be another wave of change because we’ll know more and the field will have progressed.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.