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The Changing Landscape of Health and Wellness in Colorado

Kaiser Permanente reflects on 50 years in the state


A common thread between many Coloradans is their dedication to health and wellness. This dedication is not just reserved to individuals, however, there are a number of businesses driven to promote health in their mission, work and messaging.

Kaiser Permanente is just one of these companies. While Kaiser opened in California in 1945, it expanded into Denver in 1969, starting in downtown Denver in its Franklin medical officer. 50 years later, it has grown from 712 members and six physicians to 31 Front Range Medical offices, 1,200 physicians, 6,700 employees and over 640,000 members.

All this change and growth isn’t just reserved to the company itself. Over its half-century in Colorado, Kaiser has seen a number of changes not just to the health and healthcare industry, but to the state as a whole. Margaret Ferguson, MD and president and executive medical director of Colorado Permanente Medical Group, says that the biggest areas of change have been in mental health and technology.

“20 years ago, mental health was not talked about as widely as it is today. With more than one million Coloradans living with a mental health condition,” Ferguson says. “Companies are beginning to recognize mental health and wellness as crucial components for workforce health.”

To adapt to this change, she says that Kaiser has been promoting conversations around mental health to alleviate stigma and increase research.

The second area, technology, has been rapidly evolving both inside and outside of Kaiser’s walls. “We have start-ups, pop-ups, tech incubators, and new buildings designed specifically for collaboration with other health care companies — change is everywhere,” Ferguson says.

Some of the technological changes that Kaiser has implemented are an electronic medical record as well as a doctor chat, all with the goal of creating a more personalized and connected medical care to patients.

Outside of Kaiser's 50th anniversary kick-off. 

Health care across the country has been changing and the conversations around affordable care are dominating the political sphere. In Ferguson’s perspective, the way that health care is delivered and paid for must be changed and fixed. She says it will take collaboration, the introduction of financial incentives and increased efficiency in the industry.

“It’s imperative the industry focus on addressing the root causes of poor health by promoting public health policy, community health services, and workplace efforts that support healthier lifestyle,” Ferguson says, adding that access to affordable care is something that evolved in Colorado over the past fifty years.

“As the first woman to lead Kaiser Permanente’s medical group in Colorado, I’ve seen my fair share of positive, encouraging change including more Coloradans having access to affordable care,” says Ferguson. “We believe all Americans should have access to affordable, high-quality health care coverage. This coverage should include prevention, chronic disease management and protection from catastrophic illness.”

Aside from practicing medicine in the state, Kaiser has dedicated part of its mission to build healthy communities outside its office walls. According to Ferguson, the company has contributed more than $1 billion back to the state in a number of ways. This includes investments in research and education, collaboration with safety net organizations to improve care in underserved community and increases access to healthy food across the state.

With Coloradans consistently putting their health first, the state has made a number of changes to increase opportunities for wellness.

“We have amazing access to trails and bike paths, our communities are becoming more walkable, we’re seeing an increased focus on providing better transportation options like renting bikes or taking the light rail,” Ferguson says. “Kaiser Permanente Colorado has contributed to nearly every piece of that recipe over the last 50 years.”

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Ali Longwell

Ali Longwell is the digital editor at ColoradoBiz. She has also written for SDxCentral, a B2B online technology publication, as well as Denver-area lifestyle magazines 5280, Denver Life Magazine, Avid Lifestyle and more. She can be reached at alongwell@cobizmag.com

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