HHS Regional Director Visits CU Nursing’s Sheridan Health Services

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Regional Director for Region 8 Lily Griego visited Sheridan Health Services on Thursday, August 25. Griego shared ideas with clinic staff and other stakeholders on issues ranging from vaccine hesitancy in underserved rural communities to building a more diverse and inclusive health care workforce.

A native of Colorado, Griego was appointed by President Joe Biden to lead HHS efforts in Region 8 – consisting of Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, including American Indian reservations and sparsely populated areas where health services and resources are scarce.

Griego, who earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in history from the University of Colorado at Denver, has extensive experience on critical policy issues such as immigration, education and health care equity.

One of four nurse-led practices operated by the University of Colorado College of Nursing, Sheridan Health Services is a federally qualified health center (FQHC), which Griego called “one of the best in the country.” With two locations serving adults and services, the clinic offers primary care and a wide range of physical, behavioral, oral health and pharmacy services.

concerns about COVID-19

Much of the conversation Thursday focused on the low rates of vaccination against COVID-19 among children ages six months to five years. Statistics show that only 6% of children nationwide (11% in Colorado) in this age group have received the vaccination since they made it available in June of this year.

“There’s a lot of concern on the part of parents — mostly around the fear of the unknown,” CU clinical practice instructor Mia Roberts, MSN, CPNP-PC, of ​​Sheridan Health Services. “In most children, symptoms are relatively mild, so families are faced with the question of whether to skip the vaccine or risk their children being among those who experience more severe side effects.”

As a cautionary note, Roberts pointed out that during the omicron peak earlier this year, children under the age of five were hospitalized at a rate five times that of the Delta variant.

“This virus is very real for children of all ages, but especially for this young age group,” she said. “Vaccinating our children and continuing to encourage our families is the only way we can really try to prevent the most serious effects of this virus, such as hospitalization and death.”

Roberts encouraged parents to take advantage of vaccination sites throughout the area and work with pediatricians to ensure their children are vaccinated.

Barriers to health equity

As for low vaccination rates for children, CU Nursing Clinical Director of Primary Care and Pediatrics Megan Champion, FNP, acknowledged that there are specific concerns in underserved communities.

“When we’re talking about some of the racial and ethnic disparities that we’re seeing in terms of vaccination uptake in our population in Colorado, we’re looking at some of the same things that we’ve been looking at with vaccination in our elderly population — like transportation, access to clinics that carry the vaccine and making sure the clinics are open for people who have jobs that take them into the evening,” Champion said. “A lot of those barriers are still there.”

Champion challenged health professionals to think outside the digital space to spread the word about vaccines and meet parents “where they live” to ensure their children are vaccinated.

CU Associate Dean of Nursing for Clinical and Community Affairs Rosario Medina, PhD, FNP-BC, ACNP, CNS, indicated that the Sheridan Clinic’s Hispanic-Latino community was initially hesitant to adopt telehealth during the pandemic “because of different cultural , linguistic and logistical reasons” – including fear of deportation.

In response, the clinic created a patient “call center” with Spanish-speaking, culturally sensitive service representatives to guide patients through telehealth tools and demystify telehealth.

“Sheridan implemented an example that should be replicated in other places because they answered a phone and it became a connecting point,” Medina said. “Many other places that have used telehealth have not been as successful. As a clinician myself, I see it as a positive component for people who have it [internet] access. But we still have differences. Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we can lock up a lot of people.

For her part, Griego said that HHS is putting funding into local communities to ensure that vaccinations and health services are distributed across the country, and that she will pass the feedback on to her colleagues in Washington.

Building the health care workforce

The second half of the panel was devoted to building a more diverse health care workforce for underserved communities.

Sheridan Health Services CEO Erica Sherer said one answer to the health care workforce problem is developing channels through community colleges to improve pathways to competencies.

CU Nursing partners with local community colleges through the Integrated Nursing Pathway, a program that offers simultaneous application and admission to local community colleges to give students a head start on a baccalaureate degree in nursing.

In addition, CU Nursing has engaged in an innovative partnership with Durango-based Fort Lewis College to create a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree that will bring CU Nursing’s expertise to the rural and community service campus in Southwest Colorado.

In closing, Griego said the meeting was helpful in stimulating ideas that can be implemented nationally and raising issues for HHS and other agencies to consider in the future.

“This conversation is healthy because we have a lot to share and a lot of opinions,” Griego said. “It’s a matter of us having the conversations.”

Leave a Comment