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Boulder City Council Member Bob Yates on BCH and 'Taking Care of a Healthy Town'

Boulder City Council Member Bob Yates on BCH and 'Taking Care of a Healthy Town'

(File photo of BCH Foundation President Grant Besser, John Wyatt of the Board of Trustees, and Bob Yates, Boulder City Council)

The BCH Foundation is honored to be spotlighted by City of Boulder Council Member Bob Yates in his e-newsletter to the community.

By Bob Yates, Boulder City Council Member

February 2018

Boulder boasts many superlatives: We have been ranked as America’s happiest city, its brainiest city, and its foodiest city. Another list Boulder frequently tops is America’s healthiest city. Our obesity rate is among the lowest in the nation, hardly anyone smokes cigarettes, people live longer than the national average, and it seems that everyone here exercises or recreates. Vigorously.

Boulder Community Health, formerly known as Boulder Community Hospital, is determined to make our community even healthier. But, in a town as healthy and fit as Boulder, how do you improve on health outcomes? I recently sat down with BCH’s President & Chief Executive Officer, Dr. Robert Vissers, and the President of the BCH Foundation, Grant Besser, to find out how.

Boulder Community Hospital was established in 1920 at Alpine and Broadway.

Relocating the hospital and ambulatory services to a new campus at Foothills and Arapahoe over the last decade and a half, it is now one of only two non-profit independent health systems in the State of Colorado. That independence and focus on the local community came up repeatedly in my discussion with Rob and Grant.

dr. vissers“I believe in keeping health care local,” said Rob. “It allows us to make community-based decisions without focusing solely on finances.”

Rob, who has been practicing medicine as an emergency room physician for almost a quarter century, observed that health care in the United States is in a state of significant flux.

“There is so much uncertainty in health care. The rate of change is unprecedented. But, when you can focus on community-responsive health and wellness, maybe that uncertainty in the outside world becomes a little less important. If you can’t deliver high-quality community health care in Boulder, I’m not sure where you can.”

As a nonprofit, Boulder Community Health looks to the generosity of individuals and organizations in the community to partner in enhancing the health care that BCH provides through capital and programmatic investments, leading to better patient treatment and care.

The BCH Foundation that Grant leads is the fundraising and grant-awarding arm of the health system. Established in 1978, the BCH Foundation has raised tens of millions of dollars to build and expand the Foothills campus and to extend the delivery of health care throughout the county.

“As the county has evolved, so have we,” Grant explained. “We now provide a range of health services around Boulder County, including in Erie, Superior, Lafayette, Louisville, and Longmont.” Echoed Rob, “Everyone thinks of BCH as our Foothills Hospital campus, but 60 percent of our services are provided outside the hospital walls. Our goal is to keep people out of the hospital.”

That shift will accelerate as BCH increasingly focuses on providing mental health services, a community need that might not receive the attention it deserves if BCH wasn’t independent.

The Foundation has raised a significant portion of the $8 million that will be used to build a new mental health facility just east of the Foothills Hospital building and to establish a mental health endowment. Community support has been overwhelming, with donations from more than 400 contributors, led by a $2 million gift from Lou and Melodie Della Cava and a $1-million gift from Brad Feld & Amy Batchelor.

The CDC estimates that one in four people suffers from some form of mental illness.

“Mental health care is one of our greatest needs,” Rob said, “We want mental health providers to be embedded in all aspects of health care.” By way of example, Rob explained that, previously, a primary care physician might refer a patient to a mental health care provider if the physician noticed a problem in the course of the exam.

“Of course, the patient rarely followed up.” Now, a BCH physician will actually walk the patient down the hall and introduce him or her to the mental health provider. “There is an immediate, warm handoff and we know that the patient is going to get the care needed. Our effective mental health referral process is held out as a national model.”

A second shift for BCH is in developing community wellness, using local partners. Grant explained that BCH has significant collaborations with many local organizations, including the Boulder and Boulder Valley Rotary clubs, with the University of Colorado, with the YMCA, and with Mental Health Partners, using their access to the community to engage people on a range of health care topics. Grant is particularly proud of the Walk with a Doc program in partnership with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Each month, a BCH doctor leads community members in a brisk, 30-minute walk through one of Boulder’s parks, along the way lecturing on topics like “Happiness and the Heart” and “Does Cholesterol Still Matter?” The free program has become so popular that upwards of 200 people will join in.

Reflecting on BCH’s nearly 100 years of independence and service to Boulder, Rob observes, “This is incredibly rare. It should be treasured by the community.” Added Grant, “Our responsibility is to care for the healthiest community in the nation.”