Colorado’s kids need our help.
Our state is not just dealing with the continuing health, social and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Data from the most recent America’s Health Rankings shows that even before the pandemic started, Colorado youth had comparatively low high school graduation rates (ranked 44th in the country), and higher rates of teen suicide (43rd in the country).
Most public health challenges such as these have been exacerbated this past year, as COVID has undermined normal, healthy routines by isolating people from one another and causing higher levels of anxiety and depression.
To help address these issues, Rocky Mountain Health Plans, a UnitedHealthcare company, recently announced a $30 million donation to increase access to health care and support communities across Colorado.
A large part of the donation, $25 million, will be used by the Rocky Mountain Health Foundation to fund STEM education for women, people of color and underserved populations, as well as support increased access to youth mental health services and other charitable needs along the Western Slope. The remaining $5 million will be used to establish the Healthy Young/Strong Colorado Fund, created in partnership with State Attorney General Phil Weiser, to sustain and expand critical mental health services for youth statewide.
Mental health care access and education are just some of the social determinants that have a huge impact on public health. Food insecurity, a lack of affordable housing, and financial stressors can also significantly impede a person’s ability to remain healthy and well. That’s why this isn’t the first time UnitedHealthcare and Rocky Mountain Health Plans have made significant local contributions that matter.
In 2018, UnitedHealthcare was the largest investor in the construction of the Elisabetta, a 91-unit housing development built in the Globeville neighborhood of Denver. Our enterprise provided $14.7 million in equity through Low-Income Housing Tax Credits as part of an initiative to connect people in need to housing and support services that could help them live healthier lives.
And, in 2019, United Health Foundation partnered with the Colorado Center for Nursing Excellence to address the shortage of mental health providers in rural Colorado communities. The Foundation provided a three-year, $1.5 million grant to support 39 Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Behavioral Health Fellows as they pursued their Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner certificates.
The goal of this effort is to expand behavioral health care services to rural Colorado residents by 25%.
This latest $30 million contribution will help address some of the most pressing challenges facing Colorado today. According to AG Weiser, “Addressing youth mental health was a top priority of the attorney general’s office before the pandemic — and is even more urgent after its impact. This $30 million investment in education and mental health for young Coloradans has the power to change the lives of thousands.”
Nearly 3,400 UnitedHealth Group employees call Colorado home. We recognize the need for more mental health care and more health care workers to address such issues. And, by working to also diversify the health care workforce, our industry will reflect the changing face of Colorado.
To us, this investment is an opportunity to give back to the communities in which we live and work, and to support the current needs and future ambitions of Colorado’s youth.
Marc Neely is the CEO of UnitedHealthcare in Colorado and Wyoming.