Closing the Health Care Gap in Communities: A Safety Net System Approach

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The goal of U.S. health care should be good health for every American. This daunting goal will require closing the health care gap in communities with a particular focus on the most vulnerable populations and the safety net institutions that disproportionately serve these communities. This Commentary describes Denver Health’s (DH’s) two-pronged approach to achieving this goal: (1) creating an integrated system that focuses on the needs of vulnerable populations, and (2) creating an approach for financial viability, quality of care, and employee engagement. The implementation and outcomes of this approach at DH are described to provide a replicable model. An integrated delivery system serving vulnerable populations should go beyond the traditional components found in most integrated health systems and include components such as mental health services, school-based clinics, and correctional health care, which address the unique and important needs of, and points of access for, vulnerable populations. In addition, the demands that a safety net system experiences from an open-door policy on access and revenue require a disciplined approach to cost, quality of care, and employee engagement. For this, DH chose Lean, which focuses on reducing waste to respect the patients and employees within its health system, as well as all citizens. DH’s Lean effort produced almost $195 million of financial benefit, impressive clinical outcomes, and high employee engagement. If this two-pronged approach were widely adopted, health systems across the United States would improve their chances of giving better care at costs they can afford for every person in society.

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