Two months into my role and ColoradoSPH is in full swing. The semester is well underway, and the next generation of public health leaders are hard at work. The school is also well underway in its reaccreditation process, and we are continuing to deliver on our mission and vision. It is an exciting time for ColoradoSPH, and I am energized each day as I interact with students, faculty, and our partners in the public health community. My goal for my monthly Dean’s Note is to give you information about some of the things happening within the school and also give you some of my thoughts about current events happening outside of ColoradoSPH. Let’s start with the school.
ColoradoSPH on the R.I.S.E
In my first newsletter I introduced R.I.S.E. – Reach, Inclusivity, Surpass, and Expand. This month, I will expand on “Reach” through expanding partnerships. Our partnerships are critical for the success of the school. ColoradoSPH lacks the clinical revenue that our sibling schools at CU Anschutz (medicine, dentistry, pharmacy, and nursing) are able to generate. By expanding and leveraging our partnerships, we create more funding for our research (and more fun for our researchers) and more support for our students. Our partnerships act as impact multipliers and provide better public health locally and beyond. As part of our reaccreditation, we identified more than 1,000 partnerships between our faculty and external organizations. Although this number may seem extraordinary, it is a fraction of the true number of partnerships and the number continues to grow. These partnerships wouldn’t be possible without the dedication and commitment of our outstanding faculty, staff, and students. I’d like to highlight a few of the actions we are taking or planning with regard to partnerships:
- The creation of “academic public health departments,” solidifies a natural alignment between the school and state and local health departments, and provides our partners in the practice arena with access to our libraries, seminars, subject matter expertise, collaborative programs and research, and professional development opportunities to promote and strengthen evidence-based public health. We are expanding these partnerships between the school and several health departments throughout the state, beginning with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and several metro-area local health departments, with plans to include rural jurisdictions in the future.
- Our faculty and research staff are deeply engaged with CDPHE through surveys, evaluations, and research. These relationships extend the capacity of CDPHE and offer data to measure the pulse of residents’ health and feedback about how well new initiatives and policies are performing.
- We are looking to expand on our activities with CDPHE by developing best practices for state and local health departments and performing unbiased assessments of emerging healthcare problems including those related to infectious disease, climate change, healthcare delivery, and chronic disease prevention.
- We are also looking to expand our role regionally. As the only school of public health in the Rocky Mountain region, we can be conveners, bringing together public health constituents who both fund and advocate for innovation in public health. The Colorado Health Foundation, Trailhead Institute, The Colorado Trust, Colorado Health Institute, and Caring for Colorado are just a few such organizations that deeply care about the well-being of Colorado residents. Partnerships with these organizations offer new opportunities for collaboration and as conveners, we strengthen the independent voice of each.
Given the importance of partnerships to ColoradoSPH, I have added an Assistant Dean of External Relations, Travis Leiker, to the school’s leadership team. This position will have a multi-campus mission and is tasked with further elevating the school. Travis, as our inaugural leader in this capacity, is a critical investment for us and he’s committed to championing our entire school. No great organization can thrive without expansive relationships. Individuals and communities with these relationships fare better, make more advancements, and are better positioned to thrive in both prosperous and difficult times. This is critically important for our school as we recently became a Top 20 school in National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding. To maintain our competitive advantage, we need to support our researchers, strengthen our impact, attract new talent to our school, compete for the best trainees, and expand our multidisciplinary teams. We accomplish this through our partnerships.
Thank you to everyone for their help in building our partnership network. With your efforts and dedication, ColoradoSPH will continue to grow and thrive for decades to come. With a 1,000+ partnerships in, we’re just getting started.
My Thoughts for the Month
There is another rise happening, and that is the resurgence of COVID. For those who may not know, my background is in economics, and I’ve studied access to care and the policies and practices that give rise to disparities. A signature of my research centers on the trade-offs around work, health insurance, and health. It is with this lens that I think about the resurgence. Fortunately, a new vaccine is available, and it shows promise against the current common strain of the virus. Unfortunately, this vaccine is advertised as costing approximately $120 to $130 per shot, not including fees associated with administering the shot if you pay out-of-pocket. Most private insurers should cover the shot (likely with typical copays) as will Medicaid and Medicare; uninsured individuals should check with their local public health department which should be able to provide vaccination. Regardless of ability to pay, many may not take time away from work or their families to get vaccinated, especially if they do not have paid sick leave.
Approximately 25 to 30 million people are uninsured and there are some insured adults whose insurance will not provide free coverage for COVID vaccines. These people may share certain characteristics: they work fewer hours at a single job but total hours across multiple jobs far exceed 40 hours per week; they work for small employers; they have lower wages and may be in low-skilled professions; they may be unemployed or unable to work and as a result, may experience other conditions such as homelessness, food insecurity, poor mental health, and safety concerns. One thing about the virus that has remained constant is its ability to exacerbate health disparities among those with the least access to care.
We can reduce the impact and close disparities with effective policies. Fortunately, in 2023, Colorado passed Senate Bill 23-260, Individual Access to Publicly Funded Vaccines that allows people to receive publicly funded vaccines without needing to pay a fee or show identification. Likewise, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched the Bridge Access Program to provide access to free vaccines. Not all providers participate in these programs, but many do. Starting in January 2024, most eligible employees in Colorado can also receive paid sick leave benefits thanks to Proposition 118 Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program. These have been important steps, but more work needs to be done on a national scale.
The inevitable confusion about vaccine costs and who must pay them presents an opportunity for the public health community to weigh in with evidence regarding choices people are likely to make. This confusion about payment is likely to lead to lower uptake of the booster this time around. My own research shows that many people forgo cancer prevention and treatment if getting such treatments jeopardizes their job and ability to remain insured, if insured. Colorado has shown itself to be a national leader in healthcare access and disease prevention, but as a nation, we need to do more to make preventive health a part of our culture, and care accessible without the need for “bridge” programs. If individuals are willing to forgo cancer treatment, I imagine forgoing a vaccine may seem an easy choice given the confusion and trade-offs. Ultimately, our society will pay much more in human lives, lost productivity, and health care than the costs associated with easily accessible and free vaccines.
As we continue to rise to the challenges before us, let’s keep the spirit of reach and partnership thriving. Thank you for your dedication. Until next time, stay inspired, and keep making a difference.
Cathy Bradley, PhD
Dean & Professor, Colorado School of Public Health
Deputy Director, University of Colorado Cancer Center