2023 Rising Stars: Jennaya Colóns

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Jennaya Colóns (Photo by Bryan Oller)

At the top of Jennaya Colóns’ LinkedIn profile is a quote: “I am for equity because who I am matters.”

Colóns, a physical therapist assistant at Penrose Hospital, puts that motto into practice every day, says her nominator, Rodney Gullatte Jr.

Colóns created the Strategic Implementation of Inclusive Practices, a framework for evidence-based implementation of workplace equity, and is working to integrate that model into Centura Health’s Social Justice

“We are putting these steps into action,” she says. Through the Diversity and Inclusion Council at Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which she chaired, “we’ve already started to make community collaboration … so we can figure out what does our community need and where can we fill the gaps.”

A part of the model “is to ensure we are developing our workforce to reflect our communities, especially since underserved populations are underrepresented in leadership and physician positions,” Colóns says.

Colóns, a native of Colorado Springs, was born at Fort Carson but graduated from high school in Arizona after her family moved there. She earned an associate of applied science degree from Pueblo Community College and, while working full time, is completing a bachelor of science in health sciences at Northern Arizona University, which she expects to receive in May.

Colóns was drawn to health care after suffering knee injuries while playing sports.

“I had some ACL tears, and I had three knee surgeries,” she says. “So I knew what it was like on this end of the rehab, and I wanted to make a positive impact in someone’s life and empower them to get back to a semblance of normalcy.”

Her work on the strategic DEI model started as an assignment for her college coursework to research how to solve a problem in health care.

“I want to be a leader that helps influence people.”

“I chose how can we use the Diversity and Inclusion Council to advocate for implementing inclusive and equitable practices within the hospital system,” she says. “I wanted to ensure that what we were doing was going to be intentional and done in a research-based manner that was measurable.”

She came up with the model after an extensive review of the literature in the field.

She advocates passionately for diversity, equity and inclusion, she says, because she wants people to know why these issues are so important in relation to health care.

“People need to know that there are social inequities that contribute to this expensive, fractured system,” she says. “And not only do our underserved populations have worse outcomes, regardless of their socioeconomic status, but everyone in the United States has worse outcomes than any other developed country, and we also spend more than any other country.

“In order to optimize our outcomes and improve access and decrease spending on our economy, these are the type of actions that need to be taken. The more diverse groups you have, the better, and the research shows that when you have these practices, we improve innovation and patient care and population health and scientific discovery. So there are so many benefits in doing this work.”

It’s work that is making a difference at Penrose-St. Francis, Gullatte says.

The model she created “is already changing how this organization works in the area of DEI,” he says.

Colóns furthers her work in diversity, equity and inclusion by serving as a volunteer for the African American Youth Leadership Conference and Educating Children of Color.

At Penrose Hospital, where she has worked as a physical therapist assistant for the past seven years, Colóns has also tracked statistics in her department to determine health care disparities, works to identify transportation and copay issues, and helps to onboard new employees.

In the future, Colóns envisions herself in a management or leadership position so she can further facilitate these initiatives.

“I want to be a leader that helps influence people to commit to what they are passionate about,” she says. “Whatever way God sees that fit for me is the way that I will live my purpose.”

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