DENVER – Colorado’s Hispanic/Latino community makes up nearly 22% of the state’s population (the second largest population behind white/non-Hispanic) and yet has many unmet needs when it comes to accessing culturally responsive physical and behavioral health care. Throughout the pandemic, this community has faced disproportionate health and economic impacts, including a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death, than non-Hispanic white Americans (source). Colorado Access, the state’s largest Medicaid health plan, developed some specific strategies that begin to address two known pain points with this group: a lack of Spanish-speaking providers and a low vaccination rate against COVID-19.
Servicios de La Raza, a provider contracted with Colorado Access, is one of the few organizations in Colorado to offer culturally responsive services to Spanish speakers in their native language (without the use of a translation service). Because of this, their organization received approximately 1,500 new inquiries from community members seeking care in the past year.
“People come to us because they don’t feel comfortable anywhere else,” said Fabian Ortega, deputy director at Servicios de La Raza. “Our community members are looking to connect with therapists who look like them and have lived through some of the same experiences.”
To help more people receive this culturally responsive care, Colorado Access recently provided full funding for two Spanish-speaking staff to support Servicios de La Raza for a period of two years. One of the positions will be focused on helping formerly incarcerated individuals and the other will provide services to Medicaid members in the Denver metro area.
In August 2021, Colorado Access put additional focus on reducing the vaccine disparities between the Hispanic/Latino community and other race/ethnicity groups due to known barriers faced by this population as well as disparities reflected in its vaccine data. According to CDPHE data (accessed March 8, 2022), this population has the lowest vaccination rate of any race/ethnicity at 39.35%. This is only slightly above half the vaccination rate of Colorado’s white/non-Hispanic population (76.90%). Working with community organizations, providers and consultants, Colorado Access began to educate and coordinate vaccine access in ZIP codes with a high concentration of Spanish speakers and people identifying as Hispanic or Latino.
One standout example is health equity consultant Julissa Soto, whose efforts – funded in part by Colorado Access – have resulted in more than 8,400 doses of the vaccine administered since last August and reached at least 12,300 community members. Soto hosts “vaccine parties” featuring music, games and other entertainment at popular community venues; attends multiple masses each Sunday speaking to entire congregations; and has a mission to get every Latino in the area vaccinated. Her dedication, passion and results have been recognized by community leaders such as Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman, who stated:
“We are fortunate, in the City of Aurora, to have Julissa Soto, a dynamic public health leader who has been helping us in our Hispanic immigrant community,” said Coffman. “Unlike so many others in our community, who expect the Hispanic immigrant community to come to them, Julissa Soto is setting up events at Hispanic immigrant churches, restaurants, and even night clubs, at the hours where the Hispanic immigrant community is available and not restricted to the convenience of public health officials.”
Between July 2021 and March 2022, Colorado Access data shows that fully vaccinated (defined as those with at least the full shot series) Hispanic/Latino members rose from a rate of 28.7% to 42.0%, reducing the disparity between Hispanic/Latino members and white members to 2.8%. This is due in large part to the efforts made to vaccinate Colorado’s Hispanic and Latino community.
The success of these culturally responsive tactics indicates that a community-centered approach to health care could benefit other diverse groups as well. Colorado Access is actively pursuing replicating this model among its other community partners, which includes many trusted leaders and community organizations, ultimately pointing people to the best resources, providers and care to meet their needs.
About Colorado Access
As the largest and most experienced public sector health plan in the state, Colorado Access is a nonprofit organization that works beyond just navigating health services. The company focuses on meeting members’ unique needs by partnering with providers and community organizations to provide better personalized care through measurable results. Their broad and deep view of regional and local systems allows them to stay focused on our members’ care while collaborating on measurable and economically sustainable systems that serve them better. Learn more at coaccess.com.