It started four years ago when the governor of Oregon signed into law a new system for managing federal dollars for the medical needs of low-income residents. The state was divided into 16 regions, called Coordinated Care Organizations (CCO), and each had to assess the well-being of residents and come up with an action plan for improvements.
“We made a big decision,” says Mark Thomas, chaplain at Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital. “We could have a lot more traction and our solutions could be more effective, if we actually slowed down and listened to the people we aim to serve.”
In the Columbia Gorge, that directive became a catalyst for creating a more collaborative approach for shaping policy and improving results. People saw a chance to start a broader, deeper discussion on health, reaching across all sectors of the community.
Thirty-nine organizations participated in the area’s health assessment, sending surveys to residents in three counties in Oregon and two on the opposite side of the Columbia River in Washington. From that outreach, the community lined up around a set of shared priorities, says Kristen Dillon, a family physician and director of the Columbia Gorge CCO. “It continues to knit our community together as one community,” she says.
The RWJF Culture of Health Prize recognizes the spirit of collaboration in the Columbia Gorge. “It’s a wonderful acknowledgement of what the community has been trying to do and continues to try to do,” says David Edwards, chief executive officer of One Community Health, a federally qualified health center.
The community decided on the makeup of the 15-member Community Advisory Council mandated by the change in Oregon’s Medicaid system, and included individuals who rely on Medicaid for their health care, Latino residents and a parent of a child with a developmental disability. Drawing on the health survey and input from medical and social-service professionals, the advisers came up with a set of 10 priorities. At the top were concerns about food, housing, transportation and jobs, followed by the need for better access to dental and mental health services and better coordination between providers of health care and social services.