Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Independence Center announces dental offices to receive accessible equipment

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 12:36 PM

The Independence Center gifted accessible equipment to dental offices. - COURTESY OF VERSATILT
  • Courtesy of Versatilt
  • The Independence Center gifted accessible equipment to dental offices.

The Independence Center announced the names of dental offices it's gifting with accessible equipment to make dentist appointments easier for people with disabilities.

The local nonprofit spent $75,000 from its IC Fund this year on wheelchair lifts, medical masks that allow deaf individuals to read lips, and other tools to improve accessibility at the following offices:
In addition to the free equipment, those businesses will also receive an Americans with Disabilities Act audit and disability competency training for their staff.

This spring, The Independence Center surveyed people with anxiety, autism, blindness and low vision, deafness, mobility issues, chemical sensitivities and post-traumatic stress disorder about their visits to the dentist.

Over half of the 46 participants said they hadn't received dental care in more than a year, even though all ranked their oral health as "highly important."

Some respondents said they did not have access to effective communication at the dentist, "either because they did not have an American Sign Language interpreter or because while their providers were wearing facial masks, they could not read their lips."

Winning dental practices will get specially designed masks with a clear window so that deaf patients can read staff's lips.

They'll also get Versatilt wheelchair lift devices, which according to the survey report "allow patients to recline safely and comfortably in their manual wheelchairs during dental exams without the risk of hurting their spines."

Last year, the Independence Center used money from the IC Fund to pay for accessible exam tables, lifts and hearing loop devices at medical practices. An online, interactive map gives locations and information for those offices with accessible equipment.
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Raises coming for 3 top city employees

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 7:48 AM

City Attorney Massey: getting a big salary boost. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • City Attorney Massey: getting a big salary boost.
Just in time for the holidays. Three top-ranking city employees are in line for raises when City Council takes up the pay hikes on Dec. 10.

The biggest — almost $10,000 — will go to City Attorney Wynetta Massey. She's served in that role since April 2014 when appointed by then-Mayor Steve Bach at a salary of $192,276.

When John Suthers succeeded Bach in 2015, he kept Massey as top legal beagle, and upped her pay modestly to $196,723 in 2018. But this time, Massey will see her pay boosted by 5 percent, or $9,836 a year, to $206,650, effective Dec. 28. Massey reports to the mayor and also provides legal advice to City Council.

The agenda items background material noted that Massey's proposed salary "is within the range established for City Attorney/Chief Legal Officer in the 2020 Salary Structure, and is below the market average reflected therein for that position."

City Auditor Denny Nester, who's previous salary was $171,797 will get a 1.5 percent raise, or $2,577, bringing his new pay to $174,354. He reports to Council.

Another Council appointee, Council Administrator Emily Evans, will see a 5 percent, or $4,970, pay boost to $103,584.

Nester's and Evans' raises also will become effective Dec. 28.
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‘Faithless electors’ petition wins support of 22 other states

Posted By on Wed, Nov 27, 2019 at 12:00 AM

Secretary of State Jena Griswold. - COLORADO SECRETARY OF STATE
  • Colorado Secretary of State
  • Secretary of State Jena Griswold.
Twenty-two states joined Colorado in formally asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeals court decision that, according to Colorado Secretary of State Jena Griswold, “undermines voters and sets a dangerous precedent for our nation.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in August that three members of the Electoral College should not have been forced to vote for Hillary Clinton after she won Colorado’s popular vote in the 2016 presidential election.
Three Democratic party electors had planned to vote for Republican John Kasich as part of a failed national attempt to deprive Donald Trump of enough votes to win. Only one, Micheal Baca, actually did vote for Kasich, and he was promptly replaced as an elector by the office of then-Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

The appeals court ruled that Baca should not have been replaced.

Griswold and Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser first petitioned the Supreme Court to review that decision in October.
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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

6 stories making headlines this week

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 5:15 PM

  • Courtesy Colorado Sierra Club
The Colorado Sierra Club placed two billboards in Colorado Springs accusing Republican Sen. Cory Gardner of “broken promises on public lands.” The Sierra Club says Gardner has not worked hard enough to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Colorado Springs Police Department Officer Cem Duzel
received the department’s Medal of Honor and Purple Heart awards for his actions responding to a call in August 2018, when gunfire left him with major spinal and brain injuries.

BombBomb, a video email service, was revealed on Nov. 19 as the company receiving about $14,000 in tax incentives from the city of Colorado Springs to expand here and add about 40 jobs.

Andrew Wommack Ministries has exercised its lease purchase option to acquire 336 acres on Evergreen Heights Drive in Woodland Park formerly owned by Sturman Industries.

An El Paso County jury acquitted Lawrence Stoker, 19, of assault and harassment charges on Nov. 21. Stoker was with De’Von Bailey on Aug. 3 when the two were stopped for questioning in an armed robbery. Bailey fled on foot and was shot and killed by police.

First-term Rep. Alex Valdez, D-Denver, has been elected as the new chair of the Colorado General Assembly’s LGBTQ Caucus.
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Hickenlooper hits snags

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 5:08 PM

  • Gage Skidmore /
Former Gov. John Hickenlooper, a U.S. Senate candidate, took a PR hit recently when it surfaced that the attorney representing him in a Colorado Independent Ethics Commission case was paid with money intended for a federal post- 9/11 recovery fund allotted years ago.

The pending ethics complaint, filed in 2018 by Republicans, claimed that Hickenlooper, a Democrat, accepted private flights that allegedly violate a prohibition against accepting gifts.

A Hickenlooper spokesperson said those filing the complaint, “put political attacks ahead of the facts,” The Denver Post reported. The next step is a formal hearing.
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IG blasts former AFA commandant

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 5:01 PM

Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin - U.S. AIR FORCE
  • U.S. Air Force
  • Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin
The Air Force Inspector General’s Office found that former Air Force Academy Commandant Brig. Gen. Kristin Goodwin gamed the military’s Joint Travel Regulations, wasting more than $5,000 on private convenience, and created an “unhealthy command climate.”

Goodwin, the first openly gay commandant at the Academy, arrived in mid-2017. Superintendent Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria ousted her last spring. The 150-page report, dated in July, outlines several cases in which Goodwin spent extra days at a destination, often accompanied by her spouse, and failed to account properly for those days, which purportedly were spent on official business.

The investigation was launched by one initial complaint, which was later joined by others. Investigators found ample evidence that Goodwin “failed to maintain a healthy command climate,” made false statements, blamed her staff for issues unnecessarily and, because of that and more, appeared as a “self-serving” and “absent commander.”

The Air Force Times reported that Goodwin’s attorney said she will seek redress for her removal.
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Colorado Springs has big gender wage gap

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 4:59 PM

A survey shows Colorado Springs has one of the biggest wage gaps in the nation between male and female earners.

In the survey by Volusion, which monitors industry trends, the city tied with Tulsa, Oklahoma, as the third worst for equity in pay, with women earning just 78.3 percent of what men are paid: $40,326, compared to $51,507 for men.

The survey was based on data from the Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey. Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce & EDC chief Dirk Draper says via email, “Fostering an inclusive and diverse business community is a top priority for us, and equitable pay is a critical part of that.”

He says the Chamber is addressing the issue through ongoing conversations “with our Board of Directors, primary employers, and community partners.”
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Wilderness Act heads for House vote

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 4:55 PM

On Nov. 20, lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee voted 21-13 to approve Rep. Diana DeGette’s Colorado Wilderness Act for a vote of the full House.

“This bill will permanently protect 32 unique areas across our state from the threat of future development and the destruction caused by drilling for oil and gas,” DeGette, D-Colorado, told lawmakers on the committee.

The bill would designate more than 600,000 acres of public land in Colorado as wilderness areas, the federal government’s highest level of protection. Wilderness areas are open to hiking, camping, hunting and other types of non-motorized outdoor recreation, but closed to development.

Republican committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Colorado Springs, voted against the bill.

He said Mesa, Montezuma and Dolores boards of county commissioners had issued resolutions opposing the bill. One concern was that a wilderness designation could restrict fire mitigation near residential areas.
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Airbnb hosts projected to earn $1.3 million over Air Force football season

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 2:46 PM

Airbnb says its hosts help accommodate visitors during the college football season. - U.S. ARMY PHOTO BY BRANDON O'CONNOR
  • U.S. Army photo by Brandon O'Connor
  • Airbnb says its hosts help accommodate visitors during the college football season.

As City Council debated new regulations for Airbnbs and other short-term rentals, Colorado Springs Airbnb hosts earned $1.24 million over five Air Force Academy football home game weekends this season — and are projected to bring in an additional $139,000 the weekend of Nov. 30, when the Falcons play the University of Wyoming.

That's according to booking data from Airbnb, which announced the projected totals Nov. 26.

Airbnb hosts in Colorado Springs earned the most money of any Air Force home game weekend this year Sept. 27 and 28, when the Academy hosted San Jose State University. They brought in $391,000 from 4,080 guest arrivals, according to Airbnb booking data.

More recently, Airbnb hosts earned $155,000 from 2,380 guest arrivals the weekend of Nov. 1 and 2, when the Air Force played the Army.

(Those numbers represent Airbnb totals for the game weekends, not necessarily just people who visited Colorado Springs for the purpose of attending a football game.)

"This college football season is a great example of how Airbnb expands lodging stock to help cities like Colorado Springs welcome an influx of visitors for big events," Laura Spanjian, Airbnb
senior policy director for Colorado, said in a statement. "Fans and alumni can find a comfortable, affordable place to stay, while hosts and small businesses are receiving an economic boost from this expanded tourism economy."

The announcement went out the same day that City Council was set to hold a public hearing on proposed new requirements governing the occupancy and density of short-term rentals, or STRs, within city limits.

The public hearing, which would not have included a formal vote, was postponed due to a snowstorm. Update Dec. 4: The hearing has been scheduled for Dec. 5 during the City Council meeting that begins at 8 a.m.

City staff had devised four potential options for an ordinance regulating STRs. The hearing Nov. 26 would have solicited public feedback on the different options:

Ordinance options A, B and C define an "owner occupied" short-term rental as a property that is occupied by the owner for at least 180 days out of the year, with exceptions for deployed military service members.

Option A mandates that no non-owner occupied STR could be located within five lots of another non-owner occupied STR in any direction.

Option B includes the same five-lot spacing requirement as Option A, but also bans non-owner occupied STRs in single-family zones.

Option C includes the same five-lot spacing requirement as options A and B, but requires that applications for non-owner occupied units within single-family zones be reviewed by the Planning Commission at a public hearing.

Option D, city's staff's recommendation, defines an "owner occupied" short-term rental as occupied by the owner for at least 210 days out of the year, with exceptions for deployed service members. Other than that, it's identical to option B: It requires non-owner occupied STRs to be spaced five lots apart, and also bans non-owner occupied units in single-family zones.
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Monday, November 25, 2019

Analysis: Daycare with false wall had much to hide

Posted By on Mon, Nov 25, 2019 at 12:27 PM

by Amanda Miller Luciano

  • Photo by Amanda Miller Luciano
My 2 ½-year-old son was not one of the 26 toddlers found behind a false wall in the basement of Carla Faith’s property on Nov. 13. But he has been in that basement and he says he didn’t like it there. He’s not the only kid who spent time in that basement without being one of “the 26.” There have been so many and it has been happening for years.

On Nov. 13, the Department of Human Services and the Colorado Springs Police Department raided 838 E. Willamette Ave. Faith denied there were children in the home at all before police found 26 toddlers hidden in the basement with two caregivers on whom Faith never ran required background checks, according to a DHS report. Faith was licensed to care for six children.

In addition to the 26 found on Nov. 13, parents estimate Faith cared for as many as three times as many toddlers who weren’t there because they’re part-time or because the kids were scattered to other facilities a few months earlier. The news impacted those parents and many others who used to send their kids to the daycare.

While the basement and false wall were a shock, we’d never been in that house and never expected our children to be there either.

“It’s scary,” says Ashley Dreyer, a mother who took her daughter to Play Mountain Place beginning in January 2016. “For 18 months, I dropped my daughter off and she was brought into a basement I never saw or knew about, in a building I never gave permission for her to be in.”

Dreyer’s daughter recognized police photos of the basement immediately as her old daycare, Play Mountain Place, and said it’s where she slept and played.

My son was not in the basement during the raid because he attended part-time. He also recognized the basement photos as “school,” without prompting.

Another parent said her daughter talked about “the downstairs,” and said it was “scary.”

Numerous others whose children were not among the 26 have confirmed in one way or another that their kids were in the basement of 838 E. Willamette Ave. — and not just once or twice. Parents now understand the basement was used to hide the number of children in Faith’s care from the parents who trusted her with their kids every day.

Play Mountain Place was a beautiful, idyllic wonderland for children. Parents parked in the alleyway between Institute and Prospect streets just north of Willamette Avenue and were buzzed through the white vinyl gate into a magical oasis of childhood delights.

The finished garage hosted puzzles and worktables and fun activities for the kids closer to age 3. Those 2 ½ years old and younger went to the cottage: a sweet little house with a kid-height table and small kitchen. Glass French doors looked onto a lovely little play set.

The tidy red house was set in the background, and we all assumed it was where Faith lived.

There was a lunch menu featuring fish sticks and vegetables and healthy, nutritious lunch foods. I, like many other parents, wasn’t bothered the menu didn’t get updated in the entire year my son attended. I assumed he was getting something like what was listed. We received weekly printouts with the curriculum.

And then there was Ms. Carla herself. She was Marry Poppins. She was so sweet and loving.
Faith is pretty and fit, barely looking old enough to be the grandmother she says she is or to have lost California daycare licenses in the 1980s and in 1998. Her black hair was always styled and her clothes were always fashionable.

I never looked up Faith’s license. Most of the hundreds of parents who took their children to Play Mountain over the years didn’t.

And we feel guilty and foolish and stupid for not looking up the license. But Faith made us feel that was wholly unnecessary.

“She’d been doing it for so long, and there were so many other parents who had taken their kids there and they were so happy,” says Aubrey Day, whose daughter went to Play Mountain until August when she was moved to New School West, Faith’s unlicensed daycare down the alleyway at 814 E. Willamette Ave. There were usually around 10 children at that facility when Day dropped her daughter off. A license is required for any more than four unrelated children.

For Dreyer, she knew other parents who took their kids to Play Mountain Place and they loved it. It was just a couple blocks away, “so we could walk there,” she says.

“When you see the places where you think your child is going to be spending time, Play Mountain is adorable. You want to believe people who are in a position like that. She conned us all.“

Several other parents I spoke with had similar experiences. They all knew someone who sent their kids to Play Mountain or had some other connection to it. Most didn’t have a lot of experience with other centers. Their kids were young.

“Everything seemed so above board,” Dreyer says.

And, even if I had looked, I’m not sure what I saw would have sounded alarm bells. I might have been more skeptical knowing she was only licensed to care for six kids. But the forms are so old fashioned and formal. I might have guessed they meant she was required to have a 6:1 ratio with staff.

When the news first broke, my friends and I couldn’t wrap our minds around that basement. I kept wondering if there could be a basement in the cottage. It didn’t make sense the kids were in the red house. We hoped it had all been a misunderstanding and Ms. Carla just got caught trying to be too accommodating. I still held onto that, even after reading a 1998 Los Angeles
article about Faith being caught with 44 toddlers when her Culver City daycare was licensed for 14. Staff there was found herding 30 toddlers down an alleyway to hide them from authorities.

“It sounds like she was doing the same thing in Colorado that she did here, only worse,” says Germaine Abood, whose now 24-year-old son was one of the 44 rescued in 1998. “She needs to go to jail.”

Abood said she showed up unannounced late one Friday morning in 1998 to bring a toy her son had forgotten, and found no children in sight. A staff member said the kids were in computer class. She told her friend. The next week, police arrived. She later learned her son was being hidden and was napping in the attic of the garage, where there was no ventilation.

No criminal charges were ever filed and DHS does not review daycare licenses from other states prior to issuing one here.

On Sept. 12, one of Faith’s regular staff members met me in the parking lot and said they had a sewer backup and I needed to pick my son up from the front of the red house on Willamette.

Faith texted later and said Play Mountain was closed, but she could accommodate everyone. For us, she continued care at 1319 N. Franklin St. Plenty of others moved with us, but I didn’t know them. Most of the families I knew were moved to Counterpoint preschool or down the alleyway to New School West.

There was no sewer backup or water main break, according to authorities and public records.
The scattering of the children coincides with a visit from DHS.

On Sept. 13, the day after the “water main” incident when the majority — but not all — of the children were attending daycare at different Faith-owned properties, a DHS investigator arrived at the little cottage in the alleyway at 838 ½ E. Willamette Ave. for a routine inspection of Faith’s daycare facility, according to public records obtained through a Colorado Open Records Act request.

Faith would not allow the investigator into the garage or the red house, saying both were rented to other parties, according to the report. She said she no longer provided daycare services and only occasionally cared for a select few kids and her grandchildren.

There were no children onsite during the investigation, according to the report, though at least a couple parents say they dropped their kids off there that morning.

We took our son to Franklin along with several others until Nov. 5 when we returned to Play Mountain Place. Franklin was never licensed. None of the parents were allowed to see the inside of the house. There were so many red flags we all dismissed because we trusted Faith.

When we returned to Play Mountain Place on Nov. 5, and in the following days there, I felt sorry for Faith. That “water main” incident had really done a number on her business, I thought. The parking lot used to be filled with four or five cars at pick-up and another two to four would stack up in the alley. The lot and alley were a ghost town in early November. It seemed there was a fraction of the attendance there had been before September.

That was one of the most confounding things about the news. How could she be caught with so many kids when it seemed like she had so many fewer now than ever before in our year attending?

On Dec. 2, 2016 someone reported to DHS that Faith was caring for 60 children, 10 times what her license allowed. The report also indicated children were being taken to the basement, were not being fed properly, they were dehydrated, and that Faith was physically disciplining the children.

A DHS investigator went to the property on Dec. 7, 2016 and had no answer. “There was no evidence that care was occurring at the residence,” according to the report. When the investigator returned the following week, Faith’s daughter answered, the report said. She said Faith had a death in the family and was out of town.

Meanwhile, Dreyer and dozens of other parents were dropping their children off at 1319 N. Franklin St., believing Faith’s story of a water main break (another one). Faith told parents twice that there was a water main break in order to scatter the children — once in October 2016 and once in September 2019. She also told parents in California there was a water main break in 1998 and had them take children to a different house, Abood said.

In April 2017, DHS conducted a phone interview with Faith. She told the investigator she no longer provided regular in-home daycare, she never kept children in the basement, did not physically discipline, and made sure the children in her care were well fed and had plenty of water.

When the investigator asked why the reporting party would allege she had 60 children in her care, she said the party must have confused Play Mountain with Counter Point, her preschool down the street.

All of the accusations were considered “Unfounded,” and the investigation was closed.
DHS made another routine visit Oct. 16, 2018 and found only three children in Faith’s care.

Sherry MacWilliam never saw that few children at Play Mountain Place when she dropped off her son. She said she usually saw 10-15. She knows her son was there that day and believes Faith was hiding the children in the basement of the red house during the inspector’s visit. The record did not include references to the house at 838 E. Willamette Ave., but it does not appear it was inspected.

Nicole Rosa lives at 611 N. Prospect St., the opposite end of the alleyway from Play Mountain, but still a common entry and exit point for parents at drop off and pick-up. She said she noticed traffic increase dramatically about five years ago, though Faith had her daycare license at 838 ½ E. Willamette Ave. beginning in 2003. Rosa said she counted about 40 cars in and out in the mornings. Rosa wouldn’t have seen any cars that entered and exited the other end of the alley, and there were also several families who walked.

So, could there have been 60 kids in Ms. Carla’s “care?” I believe it, and I believe it could have been even more.

Some parents worry about the potential of more overt abuse. I hope my son is resilient enough to overcome whatever unpleasantness he experienced. I know he didn’t like the basement, and he stopped wanting to go to “school” shortly before the “water main” incident. I don’t know what changed. I know a couple other parents say their kids also stopped wanting to go around that time.

I don’t know what happened at Play Mountain. I’m hopeful it was just unqualified people doing a bad job with way too many kids. Some kids did have major physical injuries requiring hospital visits and there were staff none of the parents ever met, many of whom media have reported had backgrounds that would have prevented them from being hired in reputable daycare facilities.

“The unknown of it is really disconcerting,” Dreyer says. “It’s very hard to deal with as a mother.”

These kids are all so young they can’t articulate what went on, so we will probably never know the whole story.

Even after the DHS raid, Faith tried to keep the business going. A staff member called Play Mountain Parents and told them they’d be closed due to a tragedy in Ms. Carla’s family, but that they’d reopen the next week. The same staff member accepted four kids into New School West the day after the raid without telling them they’d lost their license. Their argument was that they can have four children in care without a license.

Parents are trying to determine how to best prevent this from happening again.

This daycare is in the heart of downtown. Some of the most intelligent, connected, resourceful people in town trusted Carla Faith with their kids. And many are angry. This is not a group that will be quiet long, and it’s not a small group either.

They’re being patient with the CSPD — for now. They know police have a lot to wade through.

“It’s horrible,” says Abood, the California mother. “She’s been doing this for more than 20 years. She should really serve jail time.”

Faith has yet to respond to the Indy's request for comment.
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Friday, November 22, 2019

Rep. DeGette's Wilderness Act heads for House vote

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 9:29 AM

The Wilderness Act would protect 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon. - BOB WICK
  • Bob Wick
  • The Wilderness Act would protect 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon.

Rep. Diana DeGette, the Democrat representing Colorado's 1st Congressional District, has introduced a version of the Colorado Wilderness Act each year since 1999.

This year, for the first time, it was referred by a House committee to be voted on by the full chamber.

“This bill will permanently protect 32 unique areas across our state from the threat of future development and the destruction caused by drilling for oil and gas,” DeGette told lawmakers on the House Natural Resources Committee. “It will help grow Colorado’s thriving tourism economy, and our multi-billion-dollar outdoor recreation industry.”

The bill would designate more than 600,000 acres of public land in Colorado as wilderness areas, the federal government's highest level of protection. Wilderness areas are open to hiking, camping, hunting and other types of non-motorized outdoor recreation, but closed to development.

  • Courtesy Rep. Diana DeGette
Committee members on Nov. 20 moved 21-13 to approve the Wilderness Act for a vote.

Here's a few of the proposed protected areas:

• 35,200 acres in the Beaver Creek wildlife area about 20 miles southwest of Colorado Springs.
• 17,900 acres in Browns Canyon National Monument, a popular whitewater rafting site southeast of Buena Vista.
• 25,600 acres in Demaree Canyon, an area northwest of Grand Junction with hiking opportunities.
• 33,300 acres in the Dolores River Canyon in southwestern Colorado, near the Utah border.
• 32,800 acres in Grape Canyon, a ravine area south of La Junta.
• 26,700 acres at Handies Peak, a fourteener east of Telluride.
• 28,200 acres in the Little Book Cliffs Wild Horse Area, northeast of Grand Junction.
• 38,200 acres at Redcloud Peak, a fourteener southeast of Ouray.
• 37,600 acres at Sewemup Mesa, a popular  hiking area southwest of Grand Junction.
• 26,600 acres at the Palisade, a rock formation southwest of Grand Junction.

Republican committee member Rep. Doug Lamborn, whose district includes Colorado Springs, declined to support the bill.

Lamborn said that while he appreciated DeGette's efforts to make sure areas used by the military for high-altitude aviation training could still be used for those purposes, he found the wilderness designation to be overly restrictive.

He added that Mesa, Montezuma and Dolores boards of county commissioners had all issued resolutions opposing the bill. One concern was that a wilderness designation could restrict fire mitigation near residential areas.

Another bill protecting wilderness areas in Colorado, which recently passed the House without much Republican support, is the Colorado Recreation and Economy Act, or CORE Act. That bill creates about 73,000 acres of new wilderness areas, protects 80,000 acres for outdoor recreation, and prohibits oil and gas development on 200,000 acres in the Thompson Divide.

The CORE Act could face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, where Sen. Cory Gardner, the Republican from Colorado, has yet to declare his support. 
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Pete Lee, Juaquin Mobley talk criminal justice reform

Posted By on Fri, Nov 22, 2019 at 9:23 AM

Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works. - BRYAN GROSSMAN
  • Bryan Grossman
  • Juaquin Mobley directs Colorado Springs Works.
As the director of Colorado Springs Works, Juaquin Mobley works to transform crime prevention and anti-recidivism efforts in Southeast from The Community barbershop.

The work — which involves everything from career preparation to cognitive behavioral therapy to acupuncture to something called Drug Dealers Anonymous — aims to "enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence," he says.

Mobley says those efforts have helped reduce recidivism (the percentage of offenders returning to jail or prison) among his program's participants to 1 percent, compared with the state average of nearly 50 percent.

They're made possible in part by the work of state Sen. Pete Lee, a Colorado Springs Democrat who's pushed for criminal justice reform at the state Legislature. A bill that Lee sponsored as a state representative in 2017, titled Justice Reinvestment Crime Prevention Initiative, reduced the amount of time inmates can serve for technical parole violations.

With the money saved, the bill created the Transforming Safety grant program to fund efforts designed to keep people out of the criminal justice system in Aurora and Southeast Colorado Springs. Colorado Springs Works, a chapter of the nonprofit Community Works, received a $193,000 grant in 2018.

Mobley and Lee came together Nov. 19 for an event at Colorado College titled "From Incarceration Nation to Opportunity for All."

Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice. - CASEY BRADLEY GENT
  • Casey Bradley Gent
  • Sen. Pete Lee champions restorative justice.
Lee began by discussing his work in restorative justice. That includes sponsoring five bills aimed at diverting people from jails and prisons and reducing recidivism — in part by fostering dialogue between offenders and their victims.

Restorative justice can "transform our criminal justice system from one of retribution and punishment to one of responsibility, accountability, restoration and healing," Lee said.

But despite a diversion pilot program showing shocking success rates in terms of reducing recidivism (an 8.8 percent recidivism rate among 1,000 juvenile offenders), and legislation making widespread adoption possible, district attorneys have failed to adopt restorative justice practices on a bigger scale, Lee said.

That includes El Paso County District Attorney Dan May, Lee said, who sends more people to prison than any other judicial district in Colorado.

But Lee pointed to Mobley's efforts in Southeast as a successful example of finding community-based solutions to crime that don't include incarceration.

Mobley has his own history in the criminal justice system.

Serving years in prison for a 2006 armed robbery showed him that crime was a "community issue," and inspired him to make a difference.

"You have to understand that the kids I grew up with were equally as ambitious as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, but without a community that knows how to support that unbridled ambition, that ambition can turn toxic for us," Mobley said. "So we start looking for other avenues ... to become entrepreneurs or become the next Mark Zuckerberg."

Colorado Springs Works, along with a sister chapter in Aurora, hopes to "restore vitality to these neighborhoods that have been discarded and referred to as hopeless and incorrigible."

Mobley's team does that not only through teaching "hard skills" through career preparation programs, but by providing emotional healing through therapy and acupuncture. It also finds ways to work directly with the community.

For example, the "Drug Dealers Anonymous" program provides a way for participants to apply skills they may have gained through selling illegal substances to instead selling bowties and T-shirts in the community. And The Community barbershop holds public events such as cornhole matches, art therapy and Cypher Saturdays, an open mic-style event for rappers, singers and poets.

"Overall, we help remove all barriers and impediments that are placed in a participant’s path to greatness and redemption," Mobley said. "...Our methods will enrich our communities and reestablish our greatness and confidence."
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Colorado's Medicaid payment system is "endangering patients," hospitals claim

Posted By on Thu, Nov 21, 2019 at 4:33 PM

  • Shutterstock
State policies governing Medicaid patients are "endangering patients, putting their health information at risk, and ignoring the agreed-upon contracts and reimbursements with hospitals," which pushes cost of care onto hospitals, a group of hospitals executives said in a letter to Gov. Jared Polis on Nov. 21.

The letter, also addressed to the state's Department of Health Care Policy & Financing (HCPF), notes the signatories represent more than 80 percent of hospital care in Colorado.

The executives represent both hospital systems serving Colorado Springs — Centura Health which operates Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and UCHealth, which runs the city-owned Memorial Hospital System.

"At a time when we all need to work to reduce medical costs, Colorado’s Medicaid office is increasing health care expenses and providers’ losses, while overall Medicaid reimbursements have fallen to the lowest level in eight years – just 69% of overall costs," the letter says.

The hospital executives asks Polis and the HCPF to "work with us" to fix the problems within the next 90 days and that the state honor agreements made with providers.

At issue is how the state's Medicaid office reimburses hospitals for care and the mechanics of achieving that.

In the letter, the hospitals express concern the state has "lost its focus" on uninsured and Medicaid patients, "as evidenced by an 8% drop in Colorado Medicaid participants while the rest of the country saw only a 2.3 percent decrease."

Polis has boasted in recent weeks about the state's efforts to provide health coverage for Coloradans. Just a day ago, Polis issued a statement touting that because of health care reforms installed by the state under his leadership, citizens will save 20 percent on average when buying health insurance through the state exchange. He also noted the state's efforts to adopt a prescription drug importation program and work toward a public option.

But none of that affects how Medicaid patients are handled. The hospitals noted in their letter:

• HCPF’s new system requiring prior authorizations and reviews delay surgeries and admissions for "urgent health care needs" by a week or more, which impacts patients' outcomes negatively.

• While HCPF recently embraced a national standard for admission notification, it still requires manual upload or faxed information, antiquated means that place patients’ protected health information at risk, causes time delays and adds cost. "Our hospitals and systems have hired additional employees just to handle and fax this paperwork."

• Even if patient receives prior authorization, Colorado Medicaid may still deny a patient's claim, leading to months- or years-long appeals.

• Tens of thousands of claims for patients placed in observation for 48 hours have been denied since 2017, complicating the placement of patients for rehab and long-term care.

• HCPF regularly refuses billing responsibility for behavioral health patients, pawning it off on behavioral health organizations, which also refuse, resulting in patients being denied the post-hospital behavioral health care they need.

• HCPF’s refusal to reimburse hospitals for the cost of the drugs they administer to patients has caused hospitals to eat more than $30 million in losses since 2016. A single high-priced drug can lead to a loss of over $80,000 because HCPF reimburses less than hospitals' costs for the drug. "Nationwide, there is consistency among state Medicaid programs with high-cost drug policies to reimburse at 100%," the letter says. This concern dates to 2017.

The HCPF is run by former Gov. John Hickenlooper appointee, Kim Bimestefer, who ran a health care consulting company and before that she served as president of Cigna Mountain States.

We've asked Hickenlooper, who served from 2011 to January 2019 when Polis took over and is now running for U.S. Senate, to comment and will update when we hear from him.

We've also reached out to Polis' office for a comment and will circle back when we hear something.

Read the letter here:
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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Vibes could fall victim to slash of Minor League Baseball teams

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 5:52 PM

  • Courtesy Rocky Mountain Vibes
In case you've been living under a rock and haven't heard, Minor League Baseball is being threatened with massive cuts. And yes, that means the Rocky Mountain Vibes, which play a short season at UCHealth Park in Colorado Springs, might not survive.

Or, as the Vibes' president and general manager Chris Phillips says in a letter to the community, "This proposal from Major League Baseball is not just an attack on Minor League baseball, but a threat to the livelihood of communities like ours."

Go here for some background on this movement to curtail the minors.

Here's Phillips' entire statement below, or refer to the Vibes' Facebook page for a video of Vibes President and General Manager Chris Phillips reading the statement here:

  • Courtesy Rocky Mountain Vibes
As many of you have probably already read about on social media and have seen on the news, there’s been a lot of discourse surrounding Major League Baseball’s proposed reduction of the Minor League System, which would wipe out over 40 teams across the country, eliminating all teams in states like Colorado and Montana, including your hometown Vibes.

Right now, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball are in the earliest stages of negotiations. We can promise you, our loyal fans and partners that we are focusing on the positives, and the future. 2019 was a great inaugural season for the Vibes, and 2020 is promising to be an even better year! For the first time, the Vibes will be participating in Minor League Baseball’s prestigious Copa de la Diversión for four games in July, celebrating our local LatinX community and culture. The Vibes will also be hosting the 2020 All-Star Game at UCHealth Park on August 4th, marking the first time Colorado Springs has ever hosted a professional baseball All-Star Game.

In response to the news of these negotiations, there’s been an outpouring of support over the last few days from fans like you in our community, and others like ours around the country. More than 100 members of Congress have already expressed their firm opposition to MLB’s proposed cuts in a bipartisan statement issued to Major League Baseball. The Vibes would like to thank Colorado Congressmen Scott Tipton and Doug Lamborn in particular for signing the letter of support, helping to protect our local communities.

This proposed contraction would not only take jobs away from thousands of Minor League players, Front Office staff, and seasonal employees all over the country, but will also severely hurt business on a local level in our city, as well as dozens of other communities throughout the nation. In Colorado Springs alone, the elimination of the Vibes would take away tens of thousands of dollars of charitable donations that we provide to local non-profits, as well as a reading program that supports over 17,000 children. We would lose out on the opportunity to be able to support our beloved military community here in the Springs. We would no longer be able to recognize and highlight the hundreds of thousands of military families here for what they do every day. This proposal from Major League Baseball is not just an attack on Minor League baseball, but a threat to the livelihood of communities like ours. Minor League Baseball is fighting to prevent this from happening, with continued community support from fans like you.

There are 161 other Minor League teams across the country and we are all in this fight together. This issue is much larger than just us and has the potential to affect cities all across the United States. As this process continues to unfold, we encourage you to stay informed and vocalize your support. So to all our fans - we appreciate everything you do and we’re looking forward to an amazing 2020 Season.

The Vibes will take on the Ogden Raptors on Opening Night, June 26th, 2020.

Chris Phillips
President and General Manager
Rocky Mountain Vibes
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Corrected: ACLU sues GEO Group in immigrant's death at Aurora detention facility

Posted By on Wed, Nov 20, 2019 at 11:49 AM

The Aurora Contract Detention Facility faces an ACLU lawsuit. - JOSEPHROUSE / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • JosephRouse /
  • The Aurora Contract Detention Facility faces an ACLU lawsuit.

The family of an immigrant who died at an Aurora detention center seeks damages in a wrongful-death lawsuit filed Nov. 12 by the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

Kamyar Samimi died at the Aurora Contract Detention Facility, a for-profit detention center operated by GEO Group Inc., in December 2017. According to the lawsuit, Samimi had been taking methadone — a form of medication-assisted treatment for opioid use disorder — every day for 25 years before being arrested by ICE agents at his home in Thornton.

"Dr. [Jeffrey Elam] Peterson, the only full-time physician at the facility, cut Mr. Samimi off his methadone cold turkey," the ACLU's complaint says. "That action was medically unjustifiable. Then, Dr. Peterson failed to treat and respond properly to Mr. Samimi’s severe withdrawal symptoms."

The family — three children between the ages of 22 and 38 — seeks damages from both Peterson and the GEO Group, alleging "negligence, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and violations of the Rehabilitation Act."

In a statement provided to the Independent, a GEO spokesperson said the company "strongly rejects" the allegations in the lawsuit.

“The Processing Centers we manage on behalf of ICE are top-rated by independent accreditation entities, including the National Commission on Correctional Health Care, and provide high-quality residential care," the spokesperson said. "We are committed to providing a safe and secure environment for everyone in our care.”

Samimi was born in Iran in 1953 and entered the U.S. as a student in 1976, the lawsuit says. In 1979, he became a legal permanent resident.

Samimi's arrest on Nov. 17, 2017 was based on his conviction "for possession of a small amount of a controlled substance twelve years earlier. The immigration charge asserted
that Mr. Samimi’s twelve-year-old conviction rendered him removeable from the country," the lawsuit says.

The complaint paints a harrowing picture of Samimi's final days, in which medical professionals denied Samimi methadone and allegedly ignored his serious withdrawal symptoms and abdominal pain, until paramedics were finally called as Samimi lay on the floor vomiting blood.

"The sudden cessation of methadone violates the applicable professional medical standard of care, and causes excruciating withdrawal symptoms that include severe dysphoria, cravings for opiates, irritability, sweating, nausea, tremors, vomiting, insomnia, and muscle pain," the complaint notes. "It also leads to seizures in some cases. These symptoms can sometimes lead to life-threatening complications. Psychological symptoms of withdrawal may include decompensation, severe depression, and suicidality."

The Office of the Coroner for Adams and Broomfield Counties concluded in a January 2018 report, according to the ACLU's complaint, that Mr. Samimi died "of undetermined causes," but that emphysema and gastrointestinal bleeding "likely contributed" to his death.

"Methadone withdrawal cannot be ruled out as the cause of death,” the coroner's office noted.

In a detainee death review obtained by Rocky Mountain PBS in October, ICE's Office of Professional Responsibility, External Reviews and Analysis Unit found the detention facility "did not fully comply" with ICE standards for medical care, safety and security.

The review lists 12 deficiencies, which it states "should not be construed as contributory to the detainee's death."

They include:

• The facility's director of nursing and midlevel provider positions were vacant for longer than six months.

• Nurses administered less than half of the doses prescribed on an as-needed basis for Samimi's withdrawal symptoms.

• Samimi's possible withdrawal did not lead staff to conduct an initial provider assessment within two days of intake.

• Despite Samimi's life-threatening withdrawal symptoms, staff didn't transfer him to an emergency department in the week following intake.

• Staff did not complete an initial physical assessment during Samimi's 15 days at the facility.

• Staff did not complete a Medical/Psychiatric alert for Samimi.

• Samimi was not scheduled for a dental exam.

• The day Samimi died, the facility's physician did not answer or return two phone calls from medical staff.

• Nurses "failed to document administration of Samimi's medications on numerous occasions."

• Staff did not tell ICE's field office director about Samimi's withdrawal symptoms and deteriorating conditions.

• Staff did not obtain Samimi's informed consent before administering the anti-depressant and sedative drug Trazodone.

• During the 14 hours between Samimi's placement on suicide watch and his psychiatric evaluation, staff did not conduct a welfare check.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated in the headline that the ACLU was suing ICE. The ACLU is in fact suing the GEO Group, and ICE was not named in the lawsuit.
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