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Opinion Columns

Opinion: The coronavirus exploits vulnerabilities associated with inequality and health disparities

Even for those of us who do not become ill, it is easy to become frustrated by the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives.

Many working parents have become homeschool teachers; stores and restaurants we count on have closed; and certain aisles in the grocery store have become barren wastelands.

Heidi Baskfield

As frustrating as those issues can be, the issues faced by the kids we treat at Children’s Hospital Colorado (Children’s Colorado) are even greater. The brutal reality is that a pandemic like COVID-19 further exposes and exploits vulnerabilities associated with inequality and health disparities. And the full consequences will take years for us to fully comprehend. 

The question we ask ourselves every day at Children’s Colorado is, “What is it going to take to successfully manage the health and well-being of our most at-risk populations?” This question has become even more relevant and important in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Not only are we taking a leadership role in innovating new treatments that fight this horrible virus, we are also leaders in serving our community.

COVID-19 IN COLORADO

The latest from the coronavirus outbreak in Colorado:

  • MAP: Cases and deaths in Colorado.
  • TESTINGHere’s where to find a community testing site. The state is now encouraging anyone with symptoms to get tested.
  • VACCINE HOTLINE: Get up-to-date information.

>> FULL COVERAGE

Amid the chaos resulting from the near-total shutdown of most major economic activity emerges a real opportunity for hospitals like ours to support our patient families as they struggle now more than ever to make ends meet.

It will take innovation to address social determinants of health such as housing, unemployment and food security. We also must adopt comprehensive care management plans that include wraparound services while continuing to look at additional needs such as language support, educational support and financial guidance. 

We need to start thinking of the community as the patient. And for a community to thrive, we must work together.

It’s not enough to treat the medical issues that kids face on the surface. Hospitals need trusted partners to address the underlying social issues that determine health. That’s why we recently opened the Children’s Colorado Health Pavilion (Health Pavilion), which takes an innovative, holistic approach to child health.

Through our Resource Connect Center at the Health Pavilion, we partner with organizations like the Early Childhood Partnership of Adams County, a nonprofit that can connect families to educational programs, and Energy Outreach Colorado, a nonprofit that helps homeowners pay their electricity bills, repair boilers and make renovations to improve energy efficiency.

Food Bank of the Rockies and King Soopers also help ensure that patients have access to fresh and nutritious food. Gary Community Investments and the Children’s Hospital Colorado Foundation are among the financial supporters of the Center. (Note: Although the Health Pavilion building is currently closed due to COVID-19, our navigators are still linking those in need to services.)

The Resource Connect Center at Children’s Colorado can and should serve as a hub for federal and state funds to flow through and out into our communities that need it the most.

This unique model has the capacity to link very diverse families with very diverse needs to resources the government, our philanthropic community and hospitals seek to address.

The future of health care depends on how we address and support the complete picture of a child’s health and how we begin to change both the way we deliver health care and the way our population accesses health care. Every population and every community has a different set of health care needs, and delivering care isn’t a one-size-fits-all model.

By partnering with primary care providers, schools and community-based organizations who have similar goals to improve child health, we can work together to reduce illness and improve the health and well-being of children in our community.

Innovative, forward-thinking models like these are critical, and we must continue to remove barriers to ensure not just access to adequate health care, but also access to the services that reduce the need for health care in the first place. 

Heidi Baskfield is Vice President of Population Health and Advocacy, Children’s Hospital Colorado.