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Mental Health of Colorado’s Native American Homeless Population Became Harder to Address During the Pandemic, But the State’s Largest Medicaid Plan Found Ways to Help

Colorado Access Allocated Funding to Providers Serving the State’s Native Population, Set Up Telehealth Rooms at Area Shelters and Even Supported a Full-Time Case Manager

DENVER – June 23, 2021 – Native Americans are one of the most likely groups to experience homelessness compared to all other racial or ethnic groups (source). In Denver, Native people make up 4.9% of the homeless population but are less than 1% of the city’s total population (source). With the federal eviction moratorium expiring on July 31, even more will soon find themselves without homes.

Those experiencing homelessness often suffer from isolation, depression, substance use disorder and other behavioral health issues. Among all Colorado Access members, 14% have a diagnosis of depression and/or anxiety. For members who experience homelessness, this rate is 50% higher, with 21% having depression and/or anxiety. 

Colorado Access also saw an increase in telehealth services to address mental health concerns throughout the pandemic. However, the homeless population often lacks access to the required technology for these services. To address this, the organization began working with several area homeless shelters to provide a specific telehealth room for visitors. 

“Mental health is important to overall wellness and lack of stable housing makes it difficult to access clinical care,” said Amy Donahue, MD, psychiatrist and clinical director for AccessCare Services, the telehealth delivery service of Colorado Access. “Our community partnerships and innovative telehealth programs have allowed us to serve children, families and veterans that are experiencing homelessness. In addition, the AccessCare Services team has experience working with the Native American population specifically, which elevates our ability to provide culturally competent care.”

Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has been able to continue vital work with this population throughout the pandemic by hiring Paloma Sanchez, a full-time Native American services case manager, with funding received from Colorado Access. 

“I have been in this position for a short amount of time but in that time, I have seen firsthand how important it is to have an Indigenous caseworker solely devoted to this program,” said Sanchez. “There is not a day that goes by where I do not receive a request to work with an unhoused Indigenous person who has a strong desire to work with someone who understands their history, cultural protocols, traditions and beliefs. By having this knowledge and being from this community, I can provide cultural and spiritual support, as well as informed advocacy.”

Sanchez also works to increase COVID-19 vaccination rates among this population by breaking down vaccine hesitancy and mistrust of the medical system. In a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Native Americans were found to be about twice as likely to die from COVID-19 as white people. 

Colorado Access recently earned FEMA dollars to support the COVID-19 vaccine effort for the Medicaid population. The organization chose to pay 100% of these funds to primary care providers who serve members in zip codes identified as COVID-19 hot spots, as well as those serving a high volume of members of color. This includes clinics who focus on the health and care of the state’s Native American population. 

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