To appreciate the undertaking and impact of building a Community Resource Network, consider what the health and human services landscape looks like now:
There are lots of resources available — largely provided by taxpayers — to help people overcome barriers to good health. But the system is hard to navigate.
Let's illustrate today's system with a fictional single mother named Nora. She works, but is having a hard time paying rent and her car is troublesome. She lives with food insecurity and needs help with childcare. And she's not feeling well.
So she goes to Marillac and shares her story. The stress is taking a toll. Her doctor recognizes she's in crisis and put her in touch with a care coordinator who begins the arduous process of seeing what services Nora is eligible for. She may qualify for a housing voucher, auto repairs, childcare assistance and the special supplemental nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children — requiring a case worker to make four different phone calls, and then send Nora to four different agencies to fill out eligibility forms.
Nora barely has time to get to and from work and pick up her child from a sympathetic neighbor, much less run around town in a sputtering vehicle filling out forms. So she skips the hard work of accessing help only to get sicker and finally land in the emergency room where the costs of indigent care are absorbed by the hospital but passed on to taxpayers.
A Community Resource Network is a technology platform that allows agencies to share data and make it easier for Nora to access services. The eligibility information can be taken once — a single point of entry in the electronic system — so she can more quickly turn referrals into the services that will help her and her child stay healthy. It reduces case worker redundancy and eliminates a lot of the inefficient scrambling we don't see by care coordinators behind the scenes.
Everybody wins with better sharing of data. Nora gets the services she needs. Care coordinators help Nora in the most efficient manner, thereby freeing up time to help more people in need. The community wins, too. As we start to enhance the well-being of individuals, we're also improving the overall wellness of the community, reducing health care costs.
Such a system is under development locally by the Quality Health Network and Stella Technology. As the Sentinel's Joe Vaccarelli reported in Wednesday's edition, QHN has already created a platform that connects health-care entities in western Colorado. The CRN is the next step in the evolution of data-sharing, allowing for better coordination among providers of social services as well as medical professionals. Medical records are protected per privacy laws from those who don't need to see them.
The effort has caught the eye of the nonprofit Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which recently named the project as a semifinalist for its Social Determinants of Health Innovation Challenge. QHN is one of five semifinalists out of 110 original candidates.
QHN gets $5,000 as a semifinalist and could earn $50,000 if it takes home the grand prize. The next phase of the challenge is later this summer. The multimillion-dollar Community Resource Network project is not dependent on the grant, but QHN Executive Director Dick Thompson said it would serve as great recognition for western Colorado and the Grand Valley.
The CRN helps local providers get upstream and address social determinants of health before they culminate in a crisis. It's just the latest example of collaboration to improve life in western Colorado. Let's not get inured to innovation, for it never fails to impress.