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As Colorado’s Refugee Population Grows, Colorado Access Expands Support Through Collaborative Health Care Initiatives

AURORA, Colo. —  In order to escape persecution, war, violence, or other turmoil, thousands of refugees from throughout the world enter the United States. Each year,  many of them seek a better life here in Colorado. According to the most recent data from Colorado refugee services, more than 4,000 refugees came to the state in fiscal year 2023, one of the highest numbers in more than 40 years. In an effort to respond to this unprecedented demand, Colorado Access has developed new strategic partnerships with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Project Worthmore to strengthen refugees’ access to quality health care and provide them with needed support to integrate into life in Colorado.

Beginning in January 2023, Colorado Access, a nonprofit organization and the state’s largest public sector health plan, began funding a health navigator position in partnership with the IRC. For refugees, filing the right paperwork and getting connected to health care can be a daunting task. A health navigator’s role is to help refugees navigate the Medicaid system, ensuring they receive the health care they need. The partnership has helped to address Medicaid enrollment issues for IRC clients. It has also helped to successfully refer IRC clients with urgent needs to partnering clinics. In the first six months of the program, the IRC was able to support 234 newly arrived refugees and newcomers through health education classes, enrollment support, and specialty care referrals.

“Typically, refugees entering the United States face four big needs over five years. They are housing, employment, education, and health,” said Helen Pattou, health program coordinator at the IRC. “Having a health navigator on hand to speak with refugees when they come to the IRC helps refugees, who are worried about finding a place to live and food to eat, not have to worry quite so much about how to also find essential health care.”

Project Worthmore, an organization that offers an array of services for refugees in the Denver metro area including a dental clinic, is working with Colorado Access to expand its dental services. The Project Worthmore dental clinic was established nine years ago by one of the organization’s founders, who had a background as a dental hygienist.

Funds from Colorado Access provided additional, updated dental equipment, such as dental chairs. The equipment allows the clinic to provide care to refugees in a more timely manner. It also allows the clinic to work with more modern equipment, adding to the patient experience. More than 90% of the patients at the Project Worthmore dental clinic are uninsured or have Medicaid, many of whom are Colorado Access members. The clinic’s staff speaks 20 languages and comes from countries ranging from India to Sudan to the Dominican Republic. The diverse background of the staff not only ensures a culturally sensitive approach to patient care but also gives refugee patients the opportunity to receive care from dental staff who can speak to them in the language they are most comfortable with.

“Dental health is a priority for Colorado Access because it is an important part of the overall health of our members,” said Leah Pryor-Lease, director of community and external relations at Colorado Access. “If a person comes from a country where oral care isn’t widely available or they have been traveling for many months, they may need more extensive procedures done and we think it is important that they are able to easily access care that is culturally competent without a financial burden attached.”

The clinic has evolved in recent years, under the leadership of Dr. Manisha Mankhija, a University of Colorado graduate from India. Dr. Mankhija, who joined the clinic in 2015, has helped expand services from basic procedures to advanced treatments, including root canals, extractions, and implants.

“We proudly work with the underserved community and offer quality treatment at the highest standard of care at our clinic, because that is what our patients deserve,” said Dr Makhija. “We have patients who move on to private insurance after becoming more established in the country, and they continue to seek services with us. For me, it is an honor that they come back because of their trust in us.”

As Colorado sees an influx of refugees from a variety of different countries and cultures, Colorado Access continues to take proactive steps to welcome new members into the community by navigating services and care. Through its strategic collaborations with Project Worthmore, the International Rescue Committee, and others, the organization is focusing on health care in areas that are often overlooked and reaffirming its dedication to the underserved populations that make up its membership.

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 members’ care while collaborating on measurable and economically sustainable systems that serve them better. Learn more at