RHC Profiles: Addressing Invisible Needs in Colorado’s Mountains

A view of Carbondale

Life in the towns and resort communities along and near Interstate 70 in Colorado can appear to be idyllic. But below the surface, some residents, and their health needs, are often overlooked.

That concerns Namrata Shrestha, the Regional Health Connector (RHC) in Garfield, Eagle, Pitkin, and Summit counties. Based at the West Mountain Regional Health Alliance in Glenwood Springs, she is focused on addressing the social determinants of health — the conditions in which we live, play, and work that affect our well-being.

In resort towns, “it looks like everything’s so perfect from the outside,” she said. But the high cost of living takes a toll on many residents.

In 2014, a national study found the region had the highest health insurance costs in the country. Some people forgo coverage to pay for housing and other needs. A case of the flu, a broken bone, or worse can stress the household budget. “People are scared to get sick,” she said.

Several years ago, Namrata researched the out-of-pocket cost of having a baby after health insurance kicked in and found “it was impossible to pay.” (With better insurance, Namrata was able to move forward with plans to add to her family in 2018.)

Many resort workers are immigrants, some of whom are wary of accessing health care and other services in an unfriendly political climate. Avoiding preventive care means too many end up in hospitals or emergency rooms unnecessarily.

As a Regional Health Connector, Namrata is focused on connecting health care workers with resources in the community so they can help patients find the support they need to stay healthy – whether that involves affordable housing, signing up for insurance, finding transportation to appointments and more.

Namrata’s other projects include:

  • Care coordination: She facilitates and collaborates with health navigators and community coordinators in 40 organizations, supporting their work through trainings on issues like setting personal boundaries, motivational interviewing, and best practices for working with people who have experienced trauma.
  • Suicide prevention: Namrata leads an effort to introduce organizations in her region to the Zero Suicide Initiative. This evidence-based framework aims to create a network of organizations to reduce suicide rates, with a goal of having zero suicides in the region.
  • Thriving Colorado Dashboard: Namrata is working with public health agencies in Pitkin, Garfield, and Eagle counties to build a scorecard on mental health access, screening, and other measures. The scorecard will inventory the different mental health services offered by the area’s clinics and practices and show how successful they are in achieving health outcomes.

Namrata attended college in Pueblo and in Kansas. She worked with non-governmental organizations in her native Nepal as the country recovered from a devastating earthquake in 2015 before returning to Colorado and beginning work as a RHC.

“In our health care system, everybody is in their own world. The RHC is an unbiased person who can bring collaboration between systems,” she said. “It helps in not duplicating work, helps in communicating, in having a workforce to connect.”  Namrata’s hope is that efforts like the Zero Suicide Initiative become a permanent part of the health work in her region.

More than a year into her time as a RHC, her connections in the community are constantly growing. “The bonds, efforts, results are much stronger now than when we first started. It took time.”

– Jaclyn Zubrzycki, Communications Specialist, Colorado Health Institute