Leadership Interview: Ben Bynum, MD, MBA, MPH

Ben L. Bynum develops the Colorado Health Foundation’s impact investing strategy and manages that $25 million portfolio, including the foundation’s nonprofit and for-profit program-related investments.

Bynum previously helped launch Vital Healthcare Capital, where he served as director of operations. Our interview focused on the foundation’s work to advance primary care workforce development.

The Ascent: Why is it critical to provide capital for health care workforce development?

Bynum: For the past decade, the Colorado Health Foundation has traditionally focused on three key areas: health care, health coverage and healthy living. As part of the foundation’s new focus area strategy, it is finalizing an impactful workforce priority. We aim to invest in solutions—in nonprofits, communities and the private sector—that matter most to improving health and health equity. And we’re obviously interested in helping our health care providers that serve low-income and rural communities across the state.
In many of those communities, it’s not always easy for federally qualified health centers, for example, to hire and retain the proper care team members they need that allow all providers on the team to practice at the top of their license. Often there’s a workforce shortage in the communities that need services the most. So how do we break that down and address the workforce challenge? Those are the types of models and questions that interest me.

The Ascent: How is the Colorado Health Foundation addressing that challenge?

Bynum: For example, we’ve been looking at the National Institute of Medical Assistant Advancement (NIMAA) and funding its educational model for the front-line workforce. It’s a teach-the-teacher model with a seven-month online curriculum. A rural community clinic can identify local people they can put through this training, using the clinic as the classroom setting—so the clinic itself is the economic driver. When they complete the training, those students become certified medical assistants, and then they may be hired by that clinic and fill that direct, local need. 
It’s a model that allows individuals to become medical assistants at about a fifth or sixth of the cost they would have paid at a local community college. And the student starts their medical engagement with the practice and patient on day one. In a traditional educational experience, students wouldn’t have that touch point of patient contact until the latter stages of their education. It provides wins across the table, too. The safety net clinics are getting a better trained employee who is ready to deliver culturally competent care right away. 
That’s what workforce development is like—meeting the community and the needs where they are.

The Ascent: How is the Colorado Health Foundation advancing that training?

Bynum: Through the foundation’s private sector engagement work, we can provide both small grants and program-related investments (PRI)—low interest loans. The foundation uses PRIs as another tool to advance our mission and priorities.
The foundation has a unique partnership with NIMAA in three ways. First, we fund a grant to NIMAA to set up and anchor their national organization here in Colorado. Second, we’re also planning to provide some bridge financing for them, so they can begin to run a little bit faster than their cash flow would otherwise allow them to run. Third, we’re working with federally qualified health centers here in the state who have a medical assistant pain point, to support their efforts to have an on-site NIMAA class. Salud Family Health Centers and Peak Vista Community Health Centers have 27 students in the September 2017 through April 2018 class right now.