Douglas County, just south of Denver, is one of the most affluent places in the country. But that distinction means little to the 4 percent of the county’s close-to-350,000 residents who live in poverty.
Laura Don, the Regional Health Connector for Douglas County, works to ensure that 4 percent isn’t forgotten.
“There’s a sense that there’s a hidden population in need,” Laura said. Many members of that hidden population, she said, are eligible for but not enrolled in Medicaid or food programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and WIC (Women, Infants and Children). The area’s only community health center is in Parker, far from many residents, especially people living in rural parts of the county.
Laura is one of three Regional Health Connectors based at Tri-County Health Department, which serves people in Adams, Arapahoe, and Douglas counties. Laura said that being an RHC in Douglas County is exciting. “There’s a lot of opportunity to be innovative, and there are resources” to help, she said.
Some of those resources come from the faith community. For instance, several Douglas County churches partnered to house homeless women and children through the Winter Shelter Network.
Churches were a key to one of Laura’s projects as an RHC: She helped bring the Yahweh Health Clinic (YHC), which started in Adams County, to St. Francis of Assisi church in Castle Rock. The monthly clinic offers free services to people without insurance.
The Yahweh Health Clinic has grown through partnerships with the Metro Community Provider Network, the Colorado Area Health Education Center Program (AHEC), the American Cancer Association, and more.
The clinic, Laura said, helped “make it more clear to folks that there are people in need in the community.”
Laura has also worked on projects that promote healthy eating and active living and address behavioral health . For instance, she puts out a quarterly “Healthy Eating Active Living” publication that is distributed to primary care practices and community partners in Douglas County. It includes everything from what’s happening in the area’s recreation centers to food classes and other services that promote good nutrition and exercise.
She and another RHC also facilitate a provider group focused on opioids. The goal is to educate providers on prescription practices and the use of evidence-based alternatives to relieve pain.
Laura also connects doctor’s offices to community resources. For instance, the Tri County Health Department provides material on behavioral health and substance use. Laura also connects medical practices, including those participating in Colorado’s State Innovation Model, an effort to integrate physical and behavioral health care, with local resources.
“My favorite part is the creativity and the relationship building,” she said of her work. “I can assess the needs and be that person who helps move the community forward.”
SIM is a federally funded, Governor’s office initiative that helps primary care practices integrate physical and behavioral health care and gain the tools they need to succeed in alternative payment models.”
Regional Health Connector: Laura Don
Host Organization: Tri-County Health Department
Region 3: Douglas County