Mindy Klowden has dedicated her career to trying to improve the lives of underserved populations and making the health system work better for them. She grew up in the Chicago area and made the trek west to attend Colorado College, where she earned her bachelors in Sociology and discovered her love of backpacking, hiking, and skiing. After college, Mindy was a VISTA volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, a position that served as the launchpad for her work in the nonprofit sector. Since that time, she has held positions with several organizations – including the National Council on Wellbeing and Jefferson Center for Mental Health – and is currently a senior director at Third Horizon Strategies.
Mindy was one of the editors of her high school newspaper and planned to pursue a career in journalism. However, upon entering college she discovered that she didn’t want to just write about peoples’ experiences – she wanted to be more actively engaged. She was really involved with the center for community service and was part of a group that helped open a soup kitchen on campus. As Mindy spent more time getting to know the soup kitchen patrons, she recognized the intersection with poverty, homelessness, and mental illness and became more engaged in poverty issues. “I never really said ‘this is the kind of work I want to do,’” Mindy said. “I was very passionate about working on a cause and, in a way, the work found me.”
Mindy is a gifted facilitator and consultant. Whether it is facilitating team building activities or leadership meetings, she has an innate ability to communicate complex information in a straightforward way and help organizations tell their stories to build value proposition and support from policy makers and community members. While Mindy credits some of her talent to opportunities earlier in her career – namely running first a development department and then a policy and transformation center at Jefferson Center for Mental Health – she attributes her facilitation skills to “genuinely wanting to hear from difference voices, build consensus amongst a group of people, and bring forward information that helps support strategic decision-making.”
Prior to joining Third Horizon Strategies, Mindy did consulting for the National Council on Mental Wellbeing and the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, in addition to independent projects under her LLC. She shared that she wanted to be a consultant because she really enjoys learning what works best in the health care and behavioral health delivery system in one part of the country and cross-pollinating ideas. She likes the fact that at Third Horizon Strategies, she can have an eye on both the local and national landscape because she has long-time local clients and national clients. Mindy currently supports clients spanning from Colorado to Pennsylvania. “All of the clients that I work with are doing stellar, important work that I really believe in,” Mindy said. “I don’t see myself as merely a consultant to them but rather a partner that is working right alongside them.”
One of the focal points of Mindy’s career has been increasing the integration of mental health, substance use disorder treatment, and primary care. She says there are indications of the U.S. beginning to breakdown the silos between those services, and that we are beginning to understand the value and appreciation of non-licensed folks who can impact health and wellness and mental wellbeing – whether peer specialists/coaches or community health workers. However, in her view, health care is still too fragmented from human services. “For so long, health care was fragmented from all of the things that we know directly impact a person’s ability to function and lead a meaningful life,” Mindy said.
Referencing social determinants of health, Mindy articulated that it is a two-way street: if you do not have stable housing or income, it is extremely difficult to address substance use or mental illness. Conversely, untreated substance use disorder and mental illness can lead to poverty, people losing their housing or jobs, having unstable relationships, etc. Therefore, we need to take more holistic approach. “It isn’t just about increasing care coordination and resources, we need to start looking at the total cost comprehensively – not just the total cost of health care but the total cost of being healthy,” Mindy said. “It extends beyond just the cost of health care – it is the cost of lost productivity, homelessness, children not performing well in schools, etc.”
Balance and Backpacking
Mindy shared that as a “city girl” who grew up in the Chicago area, she always loved the mountains but never spent a lot of time in them. She took her first backpacking trip in college. “I had no idea what I was doing,” Mindy said, “but that trip completely changed my life.” The trip not only cemented her love of the outdoors, but helped her learn what she was capable of and realize that the world is so much bigger than her daily life. Since then, Mindy has taken dozens of backpacking trips and hiked hundreds of trails. Along with the first time her son walked or said “Mommy,” Mindy’s most memorable moments include the first time she stood on top of a Colorado fourteener and getting engaged on Mt. Kilimanjaro. “Life is all about balance – time with family, friends, work, and on my own in nature,” Mindy said. “I believe that when I have all of those things in balance, I am a better human being.”