Longtime Colorado innovation leader Lisa Neal-Graves has been named CEO of the Aurora Wellness Community (AWC), a partnership between the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and the Aurora community that aims to improve access to primary care for underserved populations in Aurora. The center also will offer services to promote physical, mental, and financial well-being within the community, with a particular focus on housing, food security, generational care, community building, and connection.
“We’re on a campus that sits in the middle of Aurora, and there are a significant number of Aurorans in our neighborhood who don't have access to quality health care — primary care or specialty care,” says Anne Fuhlbrigge, MD, MS, senior associate dean for clinical affairs at the CU School of Medicine and campus lead for the AWC project. “It started with us thinking about what we could do to better partner with the Aurora community, but as we’ve developed this idea, we’ve realized there’s a lot more to health than just health care. If you really want to serve the community, you have to think about how you can be creative about some of the other social determinants of health.”
Students and faculty members from across CU Anschutz, including the CU School of Medicine, will provide care at the AWC, which will be designed as a community-influenced health ecosystem. The center also will have a focus on wealth-building in the community through co-ops, small business accelerators, and other local entrepreneurship and ownership opportunities that foster community wealth. Its goal is to help turn Aurora into the healthiest and most economically viable city in the nation.
“The vision for the AWC is to build health, wealth, and well-being in Aurora,” Neal-Graves says. “It’s about providing services for the whole person, including health, wealth-building, and an infrastructure to support community navigation to services needed for general well-being. To enable new residents, when they come into the community, to know where they can go to find a primary care provider, and if needed, a job and other useful services.
“If we do this right,” she adds, “we will create a model that can be used nationally for areas that are similarly situated.”
In addition to its immediate impact on the Aurora community, AWC leaders say the project will benefit future health care professionals by giving them an introduction to community-based medicine.
“We want to provide a training environment that gets learners excited about potentially practicing in that setting,” Fuhlbrigge says. “Having a training site, as well as a clinical site, is a way to foster interest in health care careers.”
An out-of-the-box leader
Fuhlbrigge says Neal-Graves, who among other positions has served as chief innovation officer for the Colorado state Attorney General’s office, director of technology insights for Intel Corp., and vice president of the Cloud Strategic Product Group at Zayo Group in Boulder, has the perfect resumé to bring the AWC to life and make it succeed.
“The thing that really excites me about Lisa is her diverse background,” Fuhlbrigge says. “She has demonstrated her ability to identify and then implement creative solutions. What we really need in this project is somebody who can think outside the box.”
Neal-Graves, who grew up in Denver, has a BS from Hampton University in Virginia, master’s degrees from Michigan State University and the University of Colorado, and a JD from the University of Colorado School of Law.