Keep an Eye on the Colorado Health Foundation, and Its New Leader

There's a lot of interesting health funding going on at the state level, and one outfit worth watching closely is the Colorado Health Foundation, which is hot on the trail of that magic formula for better health: promoting healthier lifestyles and more prevention while ensuring that healthcare is better coordinated and delivered in a more cost-effective way to everyone. 

One source of the foundation's strength is its size: It has around $2.3 billion in assets, and made $99 million in grants in 2013, which is big money for an outfit exclusively focused on a state with just 5.3 million people. CHF is not afraid to engage in public policy advocacy, which is a powerful tool for improving health outcomes. This work is especially important in Colorado, where conservative lawmakers have pushed, with some success, to limit public spending and weaken safety net programs. Last year, as reported, the foundation created a 501(c)4 arm called Healthier Colorado. 

Related story: A Recipe for Better Health: Advocacy and Collaboration

As well, CHF has an ambitious vision—making Colorado the healthiest state in the nation—and it now has a new leader, Karen McNeil-Miller, who will leave her current position as president of the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust in Winston-Salem, NC effective September 1st.   

McNeil-Miller takes over a foundation that is keenly focused on today's top health care challenges. It has three key program areas:

  • Healthy Living’s aim is to encourage fitness in Colorado’s children by getting them to eat healthy foods and partake in physical activity. Its strategy is to involve children in age-appropriate exercise while providing access to healthy foods and drinks in schools, pre-schools and day care.
  • Health Coverage’s goal is to cover all Coloradans with affordable health insurance that meets their needs with “high-value coverage choices.” It seeks nothing less than a transformation of the state’s payment and delivery system to provide cost-effective outcomes. It backs an effective network of consumer advocates to represent the patient’s voice in policy decisions.
  • Health Care’s intent is to make sure that all state residents have access to treatment through a coordinated network of primary health care and community services to inhibit disease and better Coloradans’ overall health. It is employing technology to enhance the efficiency of health care delivery and increase patient access to wellness information. 

Of course, many other funders are working these same challenges, as we report often. CHF's advantage is that it can apply its significant financial muscle to making progress in just one state. And McNeil-Miller seems like a great choice to help realize this potential. 

In her ten years at the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, McNeil-Miller was responsible for shepherding a number of efforts, including launching Healthy Places NC, which targeted a dozen low-income, rural communities with a decade-long, $100 million initiative to improve health there. McNeil-Miller also drew upon her background as special education teacher to develop the trust’s long-term, $30 million initiativeGreat Expectationsto close the opportunity gap for Forsyth County’s financially disadvantaged children.

"We chose Karen because of her significant experience leading a philanthropic organization and deep technical expertise in issue areas comparable to the foundation’s,” said Dr. Donald Murphy, board chair of the Colorado Health Foundation.

By choosing McNeil-Miller, an African American woman, to lead the foundation, the board emphasized the diversity it seeks in its grant making which targets “populations whose health needs are not being met due to income, age, race, ethnicity, geography or other barriers.” Colorado is a state that's become much more diverse in the past two decades.