|Meredith Hintze, Reach Out and Read Colorado Executive Director, was recently featured in an edition of The Ascent, an e-resource from the Western Colorado Leadership Group that delivers timely, targeted news each month–news about population health, payment reform and the people working to pursue better care, lower costs and a healthier community.
Reach Out and Read Colorado partners with health care providers to give new books to children from 6 months to 5 years of age, with a special focus on children growing up in poverty. (In Colorado, more than 171,000 children under 5 are in low-income families.) Clinics that are part of the Reach Out and Read Colorado Coalition receive books, training, and support.
The Ascent: Can you tell me about how the program works in Colorado?
Hintze: The model is the same across the country: Participating providers will have gently used books and library information in the waiting area; sometimes, a volunteer will be reading aloud. Children–including siblings of the patient–are encouraged to take one of the used books. Starting at six months, at each well-child check-up, the provider gives the child a brand-new, developmentally appropriate book.
The Ascent: Reach Out and Read has compiled evidence supporting the link between literacy and health. Can you share some examples?
Hintze: First, we know that brain capacity is 90 percent developed by age 5; that’s why reading aloud and early literacy is so crucial: It helps children acquire early language skills. Parents in our program are two-and-a-half times more likely to read aloud than those who aren’t. Children in our program have language skills that are anywhere from two to six months ahead of their peers. That’s significant when you’re talking about, for instance, a 36-month-old child. This is important to the overall individual and community health as well. The evidence links a variety of ills–including obesity, substance abuse, teen pregnancy and encounters with the juvenile justice system–to a child’s literacy level and inadequate early exposure to books.
The Ascent: What’s your reach?
Hintze: Each year, we’re putting about 200,000 new books in the hands of roughly 110,000 children–77 percent of whom are low-income–plus all the gently used books we provide.
More than 1,500 Colorado health care providers have been trained to use books as an exam room tool to discuss early literacy with parents and evaluate child development. Currently, the program is in roughly 300 provider offices in 61 of the 64 counties. We’re on a rocket ship: Two hundred of those clinics were added in the seven-and-a-half years I’ve been here. Our goal is to add at least 10,000 children a year and, by 2020, reach every child in the state. To make that happen, we’re actively connecting with as many members of the community as we can.
Founded in Grand Junction, Colo. in 1974, as a locally owned, not-for-profit organization, Rocky Mountain Health Plans provides access to affordable, quality health care enabling its more than 229,000 members across the Western Slope to live longer, healthier lives.