The Colorado Area Health Education Center (AHEC), located at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, has received new funding from the US Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) to enable operations for the next five years. Funding is provided annually and must match federal awards on an equitable basis with institutional funding. Total funding available for 2022-23 is $1.7 million.

Led by Josina Romero O’Connell, MD, Assistant Professor of Family Medicine, AHEC in Colorado connects the CU Anschutz Medical Campus with current and future health professionals in rural and urban underserved areas .

“Part of AHEC’s mission is to have a diverse population of providers and spread those providers across different regions to serve them,” says O’Connell. “We know that those patients will have better health care outcomes if they are treated by someone who looks and speaks alike and who has the same culture and background.”

The AHEC program was developed by Congress in 1971 to recruit, train, and retain a workforce of healthcare professionals serving the rural and underserved populations of the United States.

Future-proof program

As Colorado’s AHEC transitions to a new five-year cycle, O’Connell is particularly excited about several initiatives that have received high marks for innovation in renewal applications. Among them are a series of culturally-themed healthcare-related murals in various parts of the state. A new program to provide education and medical care to Denver gang members. Another new program that provides virtual healthcare to incarcerated and underserved people. Also, there are two pipeline his programs aimed at getting high school and college students from rural and underrepresented minorities in Colorado interested in careers in healthcare.

A HOPE Institute student attends an anatomy class in the corpse lab at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.

“I have been running a pipeline program for a long time, which helps minorities who were still undergraduates and interested in a career in healthcare get into the graduate school of their choice, including medical school. was,” says O’Connell. “This includes mentorship, personal statement assistance, and medical school admissions assistance.”

One of the new AHEC programs, the Colorado Healthcare Access Program (CHAP), performs a similar function for undergraduate students at the University of Colorado. The other is called Health Occupations Promoting Equity (HOPE) and targets rural high school students. High school programs that students can participate in online also hope to focus specifically on Indigenous youth.

Rural center

Colorado’s AHEC has a broad statewide focus, but a particular focus on rural areas that have their own special circumstances when it comes to health care avoidance and disparities, O’Connell said.

“Rural culture speaks to people who often feel they don’t need or trust health care,” she says. “Practitioners are often placed in rural areas using national or state medical loan repayment programs, which pay a fixed amount of an individual’s medical school loan as long as they practice for four years in a specific and different area. But those people aren’t trained to be rural or aren’t from the countryside, so they leave as soon as they finish their four years.”

AHEC in Colorado is helping solve this problem by recruiting students from rural areas to return home after training. The program also trains providers to address health disparities in rural areas, including rising numbers related to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, hypertension, rising maternal morbidity and mortality, suicide and mental health concerns. To do.

Featured image: Created by Bianca Maestas, this mural of the San Luis Valley is part of a series of culturally-themed healthcare-related murals that Colorado’s AHEC has helped install in various parts of the state. is one of

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