Foundation Staffer Energizes Health Access for Coloradans

HIP Web Melanie Herrera Bortz 2015The personal passion of sixth-generation Coloradan Melanie Herrera Bortz is to improve access to health care. The Colorado Health Foundation program officer for health care and health coverage has spent much of her career working precisely to that end.
“I think it really came from seeing the high number of uninsured Latinos in the country and around me,” she recalled recently. “Even with implementation of the Affordable Care Act, Latinos are still not enrolling” at a pace that is representative of their proportion of the population.
She co-founded the Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR), and she recalled having run the organization for eight years. She consulted for a variety of nonprofits, including Adelante con la Salud: Latino Health Care Engagement Project, which led to an Affordable Care Act roll-out position as Enroll America Southwest Regional Manager, responsible for nine states. Her region included Colorado, where one in five people are of Hispanic descent.
Beyond getting people to sign up, Herrera Bortz sees other crucial challenges in the transition to the federal program.
“Some 22 million people in this country are newly insured, but many of those folks don’t know how to use that coverage,” she said. “Health literacy is equally important with giving access to health care.”
The million-dollar question, she added, lies in figuring out the best way to assure that people understand critical decisions involving their insurance and their health care.
“I think there are definitely situations where language or other systemic barriers prevent people from using it, the hours [of provider operations], or no providers… ” she said. “What’s a deductible? What’s a co-pay? So, what happens is that often times they don’t use it.”
Although she has been at The Colorado Health Foundation just since last spring, Herrera Bortz says that she believes that she will contribute to its efforts to make Colorado the healthiest state in the nation.
HIP Web Melanie Herrera Bortz and her husband Matthew with the son“I believe that my important contributions will stem from my expertise in grassroots community engagement,” she said, “especially with Latino women and communities on how to make systemic change.”
Herrera Bortz said that she is gratified to have the insights of someone who has gone from being a grantee to being in philanthropy. The Colorado Health Foundation helped to fund both Adelante con la Salud and Enroll America. She also tries to give back through volunteer work, as founder and co-president of the University of Denver (DU) Latino Alumni Association, founder of DU Latino mentoring program, and as a board member of Grupo Folkorico Sabor Latino and the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, which she re-joined this year. She was also a mentor with the Circle of Latina Leadership in Denver.
“It’s important that we have mentors and coaches,” said Herrera Bortz. “I have a network of mentors that I continue to meet with on an ongoing basis.”
Even so, she makes time in her busy schedule for Matthew Bortz, the high school sweetheart who she married; their 15-year-old son, Philip, who plays lacrosse and soccer for Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colo.; the dog they adopted from the Colorado prison dog-training program – and the work she is starting with The Colorado Health Foundation.
“I have an amazing opportunity to try to make communities healthier,” she said. “I get the chance to make investments to improve the health of Colorado, which includes lots of Latinos.”