Rachel Hutson is the Director of the Children, Youth, and Families Branch at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). In this role, she previously served as the state’s Children and Youth with Special Health Care Needs Director and is now Colorado’s Title V Maternal and Child Health (MCH) Director. In this capacity, Rachel provides oversight for programs and initiatives that support MCH statewide priorities. These priorities include increasing prosocial connections, creating safe and connected built environments, improving access to supports, increasing social-emotional well-being, promoting positive child and youth development, increasing economic mobility, and reducing racial inequities amongst the MCH population. [read more]
As part of our Voices of AMCHP series, designed to highlight our dedicated Board members and their work, we invited Rachel to share some insights on her background, journey serving on AMCHP’s Board of Directors, and her advice for established MCH professionals to empower young leaders.
What motivated you to join AMCHP’s Board of Directors?
I was motivated to run for the Region VIII Director position in 2018 because, as Colorado’s Title V Director, I wanted to learn more about what was happening in MCH programs in states across the country. I also wanted to more deeply understand and inform MCH federal policy and practices based on my (and my Region VIII colleagues’) experiences implementing a state MCH program.
How has your previous position as a Regional Director of AMCHP’s Board of Directors prepared you for your current role as Secretary?
It was helpful to first serve as a Regional Director to get grounded in the general roles and responsibilities of serving on the AMCHP Board and have a better sense of the type and scope of the discussions and decisions that are made by the Board. Being on the Board also broadened my understanding of AMCHP’s infrastructure, budget, and operations and the Board functions that support the organization. That experience has helped me know how to adequately capture and share the discussions through the minutes that summarize both the Board and Executive Committee meetings.
How has your role on AMCHP’s Board of Directors contributed to your work?
Over the past five years that I have been on the AMCHP Board, I have learned a tremendous amount from my Board peers and the AMCHP staff. Hearing the successes, challenges, and perspectives of people working in the field of MCH from all over the country has expanded my view beyond what is happening in Colorado, as well as enabled me to learn from other states that may be navigating or addressing similar issues that we are experiencing in our state. Having a sense of current and future events, related to federal policy, budget, and/or systems changes has helped me plan and think ahead more proactively in making our state decisions.
What motivated you to work in the MCH field?
Before working in public health, I worked as a pediatric nurse practitioner at the Stout Street Clinic, which is part of the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. It was a tremendously rewarding and humbling job, hearing the stories of so many who have experienced inequities that resulted in being unhoused. At the time, I was not actively looking to transition from the clinical care setting, however, someone I knew who worked within the MCH program told me about a job posting for an MCH nurse consultant. After learning about MCH, I was curious to know more about public health and how I could make an impact from a systems and policy perspective versus a strictly clinical position.
May you please share with us your ‘why’ for continuing to work in MCH?
I carry with me the stories of the children and families I met while working at Stout Street Clinic. They opened my eyes to the factors that shaped their life journeys and how policies and systems do not serve everyone equitably. They serve as my “why” in making systemic changes that improve the health and well-being of children and families.
What was your journey like shifting from providing primary care services as a nurse practitioner to Director of the Children, Youth, and Families Branch at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment? How did this previous role prepare/complement your current role?
Since shifting from clinical practice to a population-focused role within public health, I have definitely missed the personal and direct connection to patients and their families, which means hearing their stories. This has made me especially interested in AMCHP’s investment in telling the wide range of stories that are experienced by the MCH population. In Colorado, we are learning alongside AMCHP and others who are focusing on how to respectfully share stories that can make an impact on policy and budget decisions within and beyond the MCH program.
What can other established MCH professionals like yourself do to empower young leaders?
Listening to emerging leaders who have different ideas. Over the past several years we have all had to become more adaptable and flexible, in so many different contexts. The pandemic forced us to consider different perspectives and consider strategies that were new and different. I continue to practice listening more intentionally and trying to slow down the speed of decision-making, especially when there are new voices asking questions and challenging the status quo. We have a long way to go to eliminate inequities we see across health outcomes, so this includes a willingness to do things differently.
Seeing AMCHP’s strategic direction reflected in the strategic map, what are you most excited for our organization to potentially accomplish by 2027?
There are so many parts of the AMCHP strategic map that I would be excited to accomplish by 2027, so this is a hard question. Colorado has three strategic anchors (racial equity, community inclusion, and moving upstream), with a workforce development team that provides consultation, training, and coaching to state and local MCH staff related to these anchors. As a result, the goals in the AMCHP strategic plan related to health equity and anti-racism; lived experience; and MCH talent particularly align with the work we are doing in Colorado and resonate with me. Regardless, we have important and hard work ahead of us, and I’m grateful to be a part of AMCHP and MCH.