Sarah Eaton is being recognized for her efforts to create a Member Experience Advisory Council to solicit feedback for use at the Colorado Department of Health.

Since 2017, Sarah Eaton has led the Department’s efforts to establish and consistently utilize a Member Experience Advisory Council. The Council was formed in 2015 at the recommendation of the Institute for Patient and Family Care. The Council has consistently engaged 45 members of Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid Program) representing multiple races, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds, LGBTQ+ identities, rural, frontier, suburban and urban populations, individuals with visible and invisible disabilities, individuals who were recently paroled, and those experiencing homelessness our housing instability. An additional 1,000 members participate in a virtual network, responding to email surveys every month. Members are compensated for their time and lived expertise, which have led to marked improvements to our correspondence, programs, and web tools. Innovative recruitment methods help identify new members who can bring fresh perspectives, and term limits ensure that new voices are always being heard. 


Members participate in the Council and virtual network because they see their feedback in action. To date, members have provided input on 237 discrete projects, materials, or topics, both big and small. This feedback has resulted in significant improvements to the member experience, from more understandable letters to more useful technologies to more helpful programs.


One recent improvement is related to a letter that discusses estate recovery, which is sent to members when they qualify for long-term support services. The letter used to be sent with a form that asked members to specify what real estate and possessions could be recovered by the state in the event of the member passing away. The Council helped the department’s legal team understand that members already tell the department what their assets are and that the letter needs to clarify for members that estate recovery is federal policy, who it applies to, what members can expect, and who to contact. They played a critical role in helping the department make thoughtful, deliberate decisions about a highly emotional topic.



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The Council’s monthly meetings have engaged 59 department staff members from multiple teams as well as 13 external partners from 8 different organizations. Sarah has also led workshops with the Council using exercises such as empathy mapping to create a foundational understanding in the department of members experiences, needs, and challenges. She has led the department in building trust with members as equals and partners in co-designing a more equitable, accessible and user-friendly Medicaid program in Colorado.

Sarah facilitates genuine relationships between staff and members, making members feel they can offer any candid feedback (including about the council itself) and that staff are available for support when needed. Sarah herself has offered this support to members on numerous occasions, often during pivotal moments in their lives. For example, she has helped members and their family members respond to health crises, mental health crises, and housing crises. She worked to address the health care needs of youth in and formerly in foster care, one of the most overlooked populations served by the organization.


Sarah also led the creation of a cross-department core team tasked with increasing awareness, knowledge and practice related to person-centeredness. This team's primary accomplishment has been the addition of person-centeredness to the list of core competencies for employee training and development. Sarah also worked with the Member Contact Center, the department’s public facing call center, to identify root causes of and solutions for high employee turnover. The Center subsequently modified employee work schedules and increased employee recognition, shifting the culture and stability of the team, which in turn creates a better call experience for Medicaid members.


Sarah Eaton models and creates space for members to lead conversations, as opposed to professionals who are invited to play more of a passive listening role. As a result, Council members have surfaced issues that the department had not previously considered, including ones that impact citizens who may not be receiving medical benefits through Medicaid. For example, the Council has advised the department on improving public-facing websites, including provider search tools and a chatbot currently in development.


Sarah’s leadership has led Colorado to become a pioneer in engaging members and their families nationally at the Medicaid agency level. States such as Virginia, Mississippi, and Vermont have reached out to Sarah for her expertise in this work. She has provided a model for our sister state agencies (Colorado Dept. of Human Services and Colorado Dept. of Public Health and Environment) to engage the community in new ways, a model that has also been adopted at Colorado counties and regional care coordination organizations. Members have presented at three different conferences and events and the Council won a 2018 Colorado Health Care Communicators award.