Collaboration comes in many forms. From cross referral arrangements to full mergers, the 175 applications for the 2011 Colorado Collaboration Award represented a wide range of collaborations. This year’s winner was the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership (NCCHP).
What set the winning collaboration apart from the other 174 applications was the breadth and depth of commitment from all six organizations to full, unimpeded collaboration and the results this commitment had achieved in six years. From sharing funds to joint processes to group consensus on decisions, NCCHP functions in all capacities as a collaborative.
Lisa Brown of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association (NWCOVNA) said she was surprised NCCHP won the first-ever award. She thought their work was commonplace. “Doesn’t everyone work this way?” she asked. And given the great outcomes for the communities in Routt, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Moffat Counties, the increase across the state in collaboration as a standard operating procedure has great potential for increasing the impact of the nonprofit sector.
The first-ever winner of the award, the NCCHP, includes six organizations: Colorado West Regional Mental Health, Independent Life Center, Yampa Valley Medical Center, Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition, Routt County Department of Social Services and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association. The collaborative was formalized in 2005 and has a budget of roughly $70,000 per year.
Factors for Success:
Formal agreement and strategic plan
NCCHP is following best practices in collaboration by having clear memorandums of understanding that outline the roles, responsibilities and expectations of all involved. The NCCHP is guided by a six-person steering committee, but much of the work is carried out by various subcommittees and work groups. The overall work of the partnership is guided by the work plan, which serves as a kind of strategic plan for the group. Engaging subcommittees has allowed the work to remain relevant to a variety of constituencies as well as involved more individuals throughout the partner agencies.
The overall goal of the partnership is to “develop a sustainable, regional network of care.” One of the key ingredients cited in the application was the mission-focused nature of all six partners. Each organization is committed to the overall mission of the collaborative, instead of simply perpetuating its own individual nonprofit organization. As stated in the application, “The core commitment of partners to a vision that transcends the needs of individual organizations has served as the true backbone of NCCHP’s structure…partners have come together to realize a shared vision regardless of the benefit to individual agencies or their particular constituents.”
The group representatives and organizations have built a high level of trust over years of working together that is critical to their ongoing work. The partnership has clearly expressed values, which include excellence, integrity, compassion and community, that all parties practice. These shared values provide a common foundation for discussions and decisions. Each organization has an internal culture of collaboration and respect that transfers into their collective work. Trust is built over years, not days, and is integral to the ongoing communication, commitment and adaptability of the collaboration.
Roots in community
The partnership was formed in response to a lack of health care services for low-income and underinsured or uninsured residents in the northwest region of Colorado. More than 100 individuals were involved in the early stages of developing the partnership’s mission and goals. These conversations were well underway among the groups when additional funding from The Colorado Trust became available. These dollars helped to institutionalize the work, not begin it. The Colorado Trust money allowed the partnership to move forward more quickly and validated its hard work. As the initial funding streams phase out, the increase in monies the collaboration has brought to the region plus the Collaboration Award dollars will help maintain the partnership.
High-level staff commitments
Strong collaboration such as the NCCHP takes a commitment of time and effort. Each organization in the winning partnership dedicates leadership level staff to the steering committee as well as other personnel for various projects. However, each organization doesn’t feel like this is a burdensome commitment. As noted in the application site visit, one participant said, “It’s been a really good return on investment” to be part of the collaborative. The effort has paid off for the partners and the community.
The partnership is supported by a half-time project director and a half-time project assistant, both employed by NWCOVNA. Having dedicated staff has helped to maintain the momentum of the organization and has improved communication while clearly outlining responsibilities. Each partner organization contributes staff and resources to the work, and the specific staff support keeps the project on task, coordinated and updated.
Significant Community Impact
The NCCHP has achieved the following impacts:
· obtained medically underserved and health professional shortage designations for the involved counties, allowing an increase of federal funds allocated to the area.
· established a federally qualified health center in Moffat County that provides services to 3,000 individuals each year.
· developed an integrated behavioral health project between the FQHC and Colorado West Regional Mental Health, serving 1,000 patients.
· obtained funds from HRSA and the Colorado Rural Health Center to purchase medical equipment for centers in the region.
· formed an eligibility committee which created a regional system of providing a sliding-fee scale for services to uninsured residents with many providers agreeing on a single eligibility process and accepting a common eligibility card.
· formed a medical transportation committee which created a local system of medical transportation.
· decreased the cost of healthcare in the region as more and more people receive preventative and primary care services instead of relying on ER services.
This collaboration has proved to be more than the sum of the parts, as the outcomes achieved could not have happened without all six partners working together.
Questions to ask about your collaborative efforts:
· Are we mission-focused or organization-focused?
· What support mechanisms are in place to support this extra work, budget, people, culture?
· What are the shared values/goals between partners?
· How can we formalize what is working well and continue to evolve?
· Is there a breadth of commitment to collaboration throughout our organization? Staff, board, volunteers, clients?
· How do we continue to remain relevant to community needs?
· What systems are in place to ensure the longevity of the collaboration (MOU, protocols, staff assignment, strategic plan, etc.)?
by Cindy Willard