On a sunny September afternoon, more than 300 people gathered at the College View Community Center in southwest Denver for a health and wellness expo that included everything from cardiovascular screening to a free farmers market to a performance by Huitzilopochtli Aztec dancers.
Over the course of the afternoon, more than a ton of fresh food was distributed and various health clinics provided some 350 services, including depression screenings and blood pressure checks.
The expo originated with Stephanie Salazar-Rodriguez, Denver’s Regional Health Connector (RHC), who works at the Mile High Health Alliance.
Bringing together people and organizations is a priority for Stephanie, who has spent her career at Colorado nonprofits. Her work has always involved the social determinants of health — the conditions in which people live, work, play, and learn, such as housing, income, education and employment status, which have effects on individual and community health.
“You start to make connections and foster relationships by showing up,” she said.
As a RHC, Stephanie helps communities and people in Denver’s many health-related organizations understand and connect to local health resources. She also works directly with more than 20 health clinics, hospitals and practices.
Stephanie’s assessment of health challenges in Denver led her to be particularly concerned about several communities. In southwest Denver, for instance, some neighborhoods are food deserts, which means residents don’t have easy access to a grocery store, and many areas lack sidewalks and convenient transportation.
When she learned that Denver’s Porter Adventist Hospital shared some of her priorities, she began working with the hospital to create the September event in College View. She imagined it as a free farmers market, but it evolved into a health and wellness expo involving 37 organizations.
Stephanie also provides resources to medical practices to increase patient awareness about cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in Denver.
She arranged for the donation of 50 blood pressure cuffs from various sources to Adventist Health Science Center and to the mobile health clinics run by CREA Results, a nonprofit that works primarily in Denver’s Latino community. Residents in Denver’s Montbello neighborhood received blood pressure and other preventive tests from CREA in part because of Stephanie’s work.
Stephanie is part of Mile High Health Alliance’s efforts to raise awareness and reduce stigma around mental illness.
Stephanie sees her role as helping clinics and health organizations learn about resources in the city so that they can make better use of them.
One practice, for instance, didn’t know that the American Diabetes Association offers free educational resources. Another wasn’t aware of Mile High’s 211 Help Center, which people can call for information about immigration, mental health, child care, and other services.
Stephanie, a second generation Denver resident with Latino and Native American heritage, said that many in Denver’s health community are talking about health equity — leveling the health care playing field — and how to forge positive relationships with communities of color. Stephanie said those relationships are built over time. “There has to be trust,” she said.
At a recent meeting of Denver Health’s Health Equity Learning Series, Stephanie ran into a doctor she has been working with as an RHC. “He came up to me and said, ‘Of course you’d be here,’ ” Stephanie said.
For Stephanie, that’s evidence she is doing her job.
“You start to make connections and foster relationships by showing up,” she said. “People know they can count on you.”
Regional Health Connector: Stephanie Salazar-Rodriguez
Host Organization: Mile High Health Alliance
Region 20: Denver
Photo: RHC Stephanie Salazar at the Health and Wellness Expo in southwest Denver.