Regional Health Connector Jeff Appleman’s favorite thing about Fort Morgan, population 11,000, is its small-town feel.
“It’s a strong community. They’re always looking out for each other,” he said of his northeast Colorado home. “In Denver, you’ll go to a meeting that’s catered by Panera or whatever. Here, I’m getting home- cooked meals.”
Jeff is the Regional Health Connector, or RHC, for Logan, Morgan, Phillips, Sedgwick, Washington, and Yuma counties. “My counties alone are the size of Rhode Island,” he said. But a sense of community is a common thread throughout the towns and agricultural communities on the plains.
Jeff moved to Fort Morgan from Illinois, where he managed a care coordination program at a large hospital. As a newcomer to Colorado, Jeff found that the best way to become part of his community was to be outgoing and to jump in when he spotted a way he could contribute. “I’m not afraid to reintroduce myself over and over. Working with the same people, they start to see and understand what I do as an RHC.”
Based at the Centennial Area Health Education Center (CAHEC), Jeff is addressing health challenges that are common in this rural region. For instance, parts of northeast Colorado are short on medical and behavioral health providers. Clinics may be understaffed, making it difficult to meet the demand for health care.
He is working with a clinic in Fort Morgan on a grant application to support oral health. He helped connect Communities That Care (CTC), the substance abuse prevention program, with a child psychologist at a health clinic in Sterling.
Jeff’s other projects address mental health and opioid use, substance use among youth, and healthy eating.
- Mental Health First Aid and prescription drop boxes: Jeff connects local businesses with Centennial Mental Health, a community mental health center, which conducts Mental Health First Aid trainings. Participants in the 8-hour course learn how to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illness and substance use. Jeff also helped two counties head off drug abuse by setting up prescription drop boxes where people can deposit unused medicines.
- Youth Substance Abuse: Jeff is working with Rise Above Colorado and Communities That Care to encourage youth to find alternatives to substance use. Jeff said many teens think substance use is more common among their peers than it actually is. Groups like Rise Above and CTC aim to change that perception. This spring, Rise Above recruited young people to paint a 50-foot mural in Sterling behind the town’s Family Resource Center.
- Healthy Eating and Active Living: Jeff and an RHC from a neighboring region applied for a grant to support care coordinators who visit patients in their homes. Jeff is also working on a collaboration that would allow health professionals to “prescribe” rec center passes to patients in Fort Morgan who would be able to exercise for free for up to 30 visits.
“My overall goal is to create a meaningful impact on as many lives as I can,” he said.
– Jaclyn Zubrzycki, Communications Specialist, Colorado Health Institute