Medically underserved populations are in urban areas too
Populations designated as underserved by health care practitioners are not isolated
to rural areas of Colorado. Beginning in 1996, the Colorado Area Health Education
Centers (AHEC) System began the process of adding a fifth regional center to serve these
populations also in the central and primarily urban areas of Colorado.
Central Colorado AHEC became a 501(c)(3), non-profit organization like its
sister regional offices in September and covers the 12 counties around the Denver
metropolitan area extending from Boulder to and including El Paso County. This service
area covers close to 70% of the population of Colorado.
“Central Colorado AHEC has a key role in linking the resources of the university
with communities that are interested in improving the health of their residents,” said Kris
Wenzel, RN, MBA, director of the Central Colorado AHEC. “We are able to function as
a liaison with the CU-Health Sciences Center schools and establish relationships that
allow for clinical placements of students, and we have a role in pipeline development –
letting the area’s middle and high school students explore health care professions.”
Wenzel cites the Thornton Partnerships for Community Health Task Force as an
example of how AHEC can serve as a bridge between the resources of the university and
the community’s needs. Working with several other community groups and university
partners, Central Colorado AHEC supported a community assessment of the Thornton
area to develop a profile of the community’s health needs. This Partnership for
Community Health continues to offer coordination among public and private
organizations: city and government agencies, community groups, neighborhoods and
With students from the CU Schools of Nursing and Medicine doing a large share
of the work, teams walked the streets of the community to gather information for detailed
assessments of what people in the neighborhood needed in terms of health care.
A wide range of health related and social needs were identified – from access and
affordability of health care, the need for dental care among children to ways to address
teen pregnancy. The assessment also identified a need for a multilingual resource list of
health care providers.
Through evaluation of data and demographic information it was determined that
many people had resources available to them but they were not accessing them. Then the
agencies partnered in supplying the information to neighborhood groups and events to
better meet the needs of the community. Another example, in the case of dental care,
children were provided access through the schools in the area, and support for
construction of a dental suite in a new Thornton Clinica Compensena clinic.
Information is now being provided through many conduits in the community -
including area churches, community fairs and events. The program has been successful
in focusing on true areas of need and is being expanded to the larger Adams County area.
In terms of pipeline development, Central Colorado AHEC has established
relationships with a number of schools in the region participating in career fairs and
setting up health care job shadowing opportunities. The AHEC is working with the
9Health Fair in a special program designed for kids to plan and implement Health Fairs in
their own school. Another science and math student focus in middle and high school is
the 2001 and 2002 sponsorship of the Denver Metropolitan Regional Science and
The Summer Institute for Health Careers is one of the premier programs that the
AHEC has developed bringing students into the Denver metropolitan area from all over
the state. The students stay at CU-Boulder and interact with professors and practitioners
from that campus and the CU-Health Sciences Center to gain a better perspective of a
variety of health career opportunities available to them.
The work of the Central Colorado AHEC continues to impact access for the
health of Colorado residents through community partnerships, linking UC Health
Sciences Center resources and the support of the development of health professionals.