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Donor Gift Provides Powerful Boost to COVID-19 Vaccine Outreach

Benefactors and schools of pharmacy and public health partner to help underserved, marginalized communities

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Written by Danielle Davis on April 8, 2022
What You Need To Know

The University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has been a leader in understanding and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many generous individuals and philanthropic organizations have added energy and contributions to this momentum, including CU benefactors Alan Cogen and Judi Cogen.

Longtime University of Colorado benefactors and siblings, Alan Cogen and Judi Cogen, continue to have a significant impact on the Denver community. Thanks to their recent gifts, the Cogens are assisting underserved populations in the metropolitan area.

By giving generously to the joint vaccination and education efforts of the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (SSPPS) and the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), the Cogens have made a measurable difference toward improving the health of underserved communities in Colorado. A portion of their gift was dedicated to the CU Pharmacy Community Vaccine Initiatives Fund to serve the highest-need neighborhoods in Denver and some of the surrounding suburbs. This initiative was the result of a partnership between SSPPS and several community-based nonprofits to provide COVID-19 and flu vaccines and to address the disparities of vaccine access among marginalized communities.

Helping Latino communities

Through the Cogens’ philanthropy, two students at ColoradoSPH have been hired to help advance the work of the Latino Research and Policy Center’s (LRPC) vaccine deployment and education efforts in Latino communities in Colorado.

GalettoINSPatricia Galetto, community projects coordinator at the Latino Research & Policy Center, prepares vaccinations at a community clinic. 

The students are developing monthly bilingual webinars and participating in education outreach to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on health issues such as chronic disease and cancer screening.

With a passion for community engagement that stems from their parents, the siblings have carried on their family’s legacy of giving back. Their mother was heavily involved in social and economic justice issues, advocating for women’s rights, and fighting for civil rights. Her fiery spirit inspired her children to find their own philanthropic purpose.

Over the years, the Cogens have given generously to CU. From supporting environmental programs at CU Boulder to creating a named scholarship fund in honor of their father at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, their generosity spans the CU system. When the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020, they expanded their philanthropic giving to purchase Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and aid UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital employees. Seeing the rise in COVID cases and hospitalization rates in the fall of 2021, the Cogens were moved to address the immediate needs of the public health crisis.

Providing additional clinics, staff

Since the pandemic, the Cogens have invested in the next generation of healthcare leaders through scholarships, purchased equipment to deliver critical care, helped thousands access vaccines in their neighborhoods, and helped deliver facts-based information through culturally competent, translational services. Their generosity is abundant and the lives they have changed innumerable.  

With funding from the Cogens, SSPPS was able to provide additional clinics and staff each site with SSPPS faculty and students. To date, 19 CU pharmacy faculty members and 10 pharmacy students have participated in the vaccination effort, administering 3,608 COVID-19 vaccines and 369 flu shots at 37 clinics.

“We are grateful for this generous gift,” said Joseph Saseen, PharmD, associate dean for clinical affairs at SSPPS. “With this support, we have vaccinated thousands of patients though our collaborations with equity clinics. The Cogens have helpedadvance our mission to provide preventive care for underserved Coloradans and contributed to the greater public health mission to combat the pandemic.”

A crucial part of pharmacy students’ training includes administering shots and learning about vaccines so they can educate the public. Andrea Segerstrom is a third-year pharmacy student who helped administer the COVID-19 vaccine at one of the participating community clinics. For her,the experience was enlightening.

Cogen Graphic Banner 2-LRPC

“Working with both peers and faculty toward one common goal was inspiring and helped create a more positive environment for those most at need in our communities,” she said. “It was very eye-opening to see how big of a need there is in our local communities for healthcare professionals and students to donate their time and help bridge important gaps in people’s health.”

Transformative power of giving

It’s through collaborations like this where we see the transformative power of giving. Thanks to the Cogens’ philanthropic gift to ColoradoSPH, we are working toward reducing Latino health disparities and mitigating the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on Latino families.

"As the COVID-19 vaccine rollout began, we felt it was imperative to address the health and health access disparities in the Latinx/Hispanic population of Colorado that were reflected in COVID-19 cases and vaccination rates,” said Melissa Fineman, a graduate student in the Global Community & Behavioral Health program at ColoradoSPH and student worker at the LRPC. “With this project we not only wanted to encourage COVID-19 vaccination, but to create an accurate and trustworthy source of information that helps people find the most convenient and culturally accepting places for vaccination. It has been incredibly rewarding working with the dedicated staff and faculty at the LRPC on this project, and I look forward to the initiatives and growing positive impact that are to come.”

Engaging students in community service

The LRPC is a reliable cultural source for different Latino communities throughout Colorado, reaching more than 55,000 people in 2021 through educational talks offered in Spanish. Since 2020, LRPC has disseminated COVID-19 materials throughout the Latino community, with more than 30 educational webinars in Spanish presented by Latino medical and epidemiological professionals. They created an interactive map of vaccination sites in Spanish that has amassed more than 6,000 page views and partnered with more than 30 community organizations to help get the word out about the online platform. LRPC also developed a bilingual list of resources to help the Latino community cope with the pandemic and produced a Spanish digital calendar that includes vaccination sites, events and other resources as a central hub for Latino serving organizations.

Engaging students in small changes that can lead to bigger changes is a hallmark of the CU experience. As a campus, we are committed to building a community that thrives on diversity, equity, inclusion and community engagement. Together, we can leave the world a better place than we found it.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has proven itself a national leader in shaping our understanding of the virus. From informing the state response to COVID-19 to vaccinating and treating the most vulnerable patients at our hospitals, our campus stepped up and answered the call to help. Now, two years later, CU Anschutz continues to put the health and safety of our community first.

Our physician-scientists, providers and frontline workers, students and staff continue to work together to keep research, education and clinical care endeavors moving forward.

Guest contributor: Danielle Davis is a communications professional in the CU Anschutz Office of Advancement.