Grant will reveal what Aurora charity hospitals can provide beyond health care


AURORA | Nearly a decade has passed since the derelict facility formerly know as the Fitzsimons Army Medical Center transformed into the booming Anschutz Medical Campus, however calculating the effect that Aurora’s Oz has had on the community can be slippery.

Despite having a reported $2.6 billion impact on the state economy from 2012-13 and providing nearly 22,000 jobs, the question of just what that means for the residents of north Aurora often lingers. Due to Anschutz’s tax exempt status, it can be a slick problem, but one researcher Gregory Tung is aiming to answer with a new grant.

“Now, because of the Affordable Care Act, there are all sorts of changes moving forward. Hospitals are going to be required to do a whole new range of activities and not just provide charity care, but think about other ways of interfacing with the community,” Tung said. “But what that actually looks like? Nobody really knows yet.”

Tung, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz, is spearheading a new initiative targeted at providing an answer to that question. Through a recently awarded $250,000 grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trust, Tung will be spending the next two years analyzing how a nonprofit hospital like Children’s Hospital Colorado can better benefit the community it serves. Mainly, that means finding ways to provide resources for Aurora residents apart from just occasionally providing free health care services.

“There’s tons of money, like $50 billion a year that’s spent on nonprofit community hospital benefit activities, and in the past almost all of that has been directed towards charity care, or basically providing free care,” he said.

The $250,000 grant will also see a matching $100,000 contribution from several other entities at CU Anschutz.

Tung explained that new guidelines outlined in the ACA will soon require hospitals to serve the community through more robust mechanisms than just providing free care, though what those mechanisms are exactly remains to be seen.

“The ACA’s new and the specific requirements and rules about what hospitals are supposed to be doing are still being written,” he said. “The IRS are kind of going through this stage process of bringing out new rules, so this interfacing of the community is still totally new.”

To try and provide an answer in the meantime, Tung and his team will be focusing on two Health Impact Assessments — studies on specific initiatives intended to inform later policy making decisions — on issues immediately relevant to those served by Children’s Hospital Colorado. With the possibility of more HIAs down the road, the first outlined in Tung’s grant proposal will focus on preventing youth and gang violence in Aurora Public Schools and the second on drafting recommendations for policies tied to marijuana use and its relation to child abuse and neglect.

“There’s all sorts of unanswered questions relating to marijuana, across the full spectrum,” Tung said. “Our potential focus is looking at, ‘how should this be operationalized within child welfare decision making?’ I don’t think there are clear answers just yet, so that’s the space that we’re trying to inform.”

And informing marijuana policy is an area in which Tung is uniquely familiar. Last year, he led another HIA through Children’s Hospital Colorado, which made recommendations for and eventually resulted in state legislators enacting stricter limits on the packaging of recreational marijuana in order to keep it out of the reach of minors. The HIA was the only one in the country to be justified within a hospital’s (Children’s) community benefit activities.

“There was lots of interest in that and the state was very responsive, ultimately adopting those recommendations, so it was cool,” Tung said.

In his report, Tung found that after the use and sale of medical marijuana grew rapidly in Colorado between Oct. 2009 and Dec. 2011, the number of children under the age of 12 who tested positive for marijuana at Children’s Hospital significantly increased.

Though the ink is barely dry on the new grant, Tung said he’s excited about the possibility his new HIA’s could have not only for Anschutz, but other hospitals around the country.

He is expected to make his first recommendations related to his two initial HIAs in about 18 months.