Health

Friday, December 14, 2018

Fountain, Security, Widefield residents have higher-than-normal blood levels of toxic PFASs, study finds

Posted By on Fri, Dec 14, 2018 at 10:03 PM

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Residents south of Colorado Springs whose drinking water supply was contaminated with toxic PFASs have high levels of the chemicals in their blood, according to initial results from a study from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines.

Researchers collected 220 blood samples from people who lived in the Fountain, Security and Widefield communities for at least three years before August 2015. While drinking water in those water systems is now being treated for PFASs, used in Air Force firefighting chemicals, some residents were exposed to the toxic compounds for years before government agencies recognized their potential dangers.


(Wondering why we are now referring to the chemicals as PFASs, though we referred to them as PFCs in other stories? Read this from the Environmental Protection Agency.)

Little is known about the health effects of PFASs in humans. However, studies on laboratory animals have shown that high concentrations of certain chemicals can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, immunological effects and tumors, according to the EPA. The most consistent finding among human studies is increased cholesterol, with more limited findings related to cancer, thyroid hormone effects, infant birth weights and adverse effects on the immune system.


The initial results of the study revealed that study participants had blood levels of one toxic compound, PFHxS, that were about 10 times as high as U.S. population reference levels. Levels of this chemical were higher than those for residents in other communities that were highly exposed to PFASs.

Study participants had about twice as much PFOS, another chemical in the PFASs group, as the general population. Previous studies have linked this chemical to thyroid hormone effects in humans.


For study participants, levels of the chemical PFOA — which human studies have linked to cancer — were 40 to 70 percent higher than U.S. levels.

To understand what residents may have been exposed to before water suppliers changed sources or added treatment systems in 2015, researchers also measured PFASs in the untreated wells that communities used prior to that. Total PFASs in the untreated wells ranged from 18 to 2300 ppt.

The Environmental Protection Agency's current acceptable standard for drinking water is 70 ppt, though a June study by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry indicated safe levels could be as low as 12 ppt.

Researchers plan to present more results in the first half of 2019, and will begin recruiting more participants for blood sampling in April.

The full presentation from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines is available on the study website and embedded below.

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Wednesday, December 5, 2018

"Quarry" homeless camp targeted for cleanup by City

Posted By on Wed, Dec 5, 2018 at 5:27 PM

Dozens of campers living in the "Quarry" camp southeast of downtown must leave by Dec. 11, according to a Dec. 3. statement from the city.

The camp, a large portion of which encompasses land where nonprofit Concrete Couch plans to build its new headquarters, exploded in recent months as police conducted sweeps in nearby areas, Steve Wood, Concrete Couch's director, told the Indy recently.

The city and Colorado Springs Police Department, in partnership with local nonprofits, planned to conduct a Service Provider Outreach Day on Dec. 5 in hopes of providing campers with resources to help them find shelter and eventually exit homelessness.

While city officials and Mayor John Suthers have opposed self-governing campsites as a solution to homelessness issues, the Quarry has proliferated on private land for years. The recent move by the city is probably tied to the addition of 150 new low-barrier shelter beds at Springs Rescue Mission, which will open Dec. 10, the day before campers must leave.

"I can tell you that the private property owners have asked us to assist them in encouraging people to leave," says Lt. Michael Lux, who leads the police Homeless Outreach Team (HOT). "We were involved with this months ago, monitoring it, watching it, even though it’s not city property, it’s private property. But we had some issues with one parcel of the property that the attorneys for the city were working on contacting the owners that were not in the city. And they were working on that. So that led to us holding off and not to move forward with moving people until this time."

Many homeless people prefer to camp outdoors versus staying in shelters. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Many homeless people prefer to camp outdoors versus staying in shelters.
Recent publicity about the Quarry may have also served to draw further attention to the campsite, which is illegal per city zoning requirements.

Wood and his colleagues at Concrete Couch had hoped the site could serve as transitional housing for campers before the nonprofit opened its new headquarters. However, the number of campers on the site increased rapidly before Concrete Couch could close on the property, and Wood acknowledged even this summer that such a vision, which would involve imposing rules such as sobriety requirements and cleaning duties, would be difficult to see through.


At a town hall Nov. 15 to discuss the city's Homelessness Action Plan, at least one person who had lived in the Quarry was present. He and a handful of others asked city officials to allow campers to remain there legally.

"My question is why can’t the city allocate some land, a campsite, where maybe the [police Homeless Outreach Team] can come through, if your campsite is not clean you cannot be there?" asked Brandon Robbins, who called himself the Quarry's "longest-standing tenant."

"The shelter is not always for everyone," Robbins said. "It actually makes people’s anxiety worse, their mental illness worse, and you don’t get treated the right way sometimes, and so we say, 'You guys, we’re out. We’re going to go camp.' And yeah, there’s certain spots you can’t camp. Those are the people you need to take care of. But where we’re at we police ourselves in the best manner we can."

But city officials, as in the past, seemed unlikely to consider such a proposal.

Staff research shows "legal encampments that have been successful have been just as expensive, if not more expensive to run, as just adding shelter beds" due to security costs, replied Andrew Phelps, the city's homelessness prevention and response coordinator. "The reason that we’re adding shelter beds is that the services are already there. We have nonprofits in our community that are stretched thin. The case managers are stretched thin. They don’t have the time to get out to the camps, so it’s easier and it’s cheaper to just add the beds."

City Councilor Richard Skorman said he thought there "could be possibilities" for legal encampments in the future.

"Personally, I’m not opposed to small encampments that are well-managed," he said at the town hall. "I know they did this at Rocky Top [Resources] and there was 55 campsites there...It was very clean. They had their own security. They worked with the stormwater folks to build their latrines and the county took it away. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t look into that, but there is skepticism from some bad examples out there."

Lux says campers responded well to the outreach day Dec. 5. Around 30 received hepatitis A vaccinations, important in light of an increase in reported cases of the liver infection in El Paso County. Others, he says, connected with nonprofits that could help them find housing and other resources.

"I liked all the providers coming together," Lux says, "...and on the way out they said, 'Let’s do it again. If you get another large camp, this is the way to do it.' And I said, 'That’s great.' The city wants to do things the best way we can for all the citizens and this just seems reasonable.'"

While the city only requires police to give campers 24 hours notice to move, Lux noted that in this particular situation, with 100-plus campers, giving them more time was the "right thing to do."

Lux says that campers who are unwilling to move by Dec. 11 could be prosecuted for trespassing, but anticipates most will voluntarily leave.

Read the city's statement on Service Provider Outreach Day at the Quarry:

City, CSPD to Convene Service Providers Ahead of Quarry Camp Cleanup
Wednesday Morning Gathering Intended to Direct Campers to Shelters, Services

A week before the posted clean-up date for the “Quarry” camp southeast of downtown, the City of Colorado Springs, together with the Colorado Springs Police Department, have coordinated an outreach event aimed at connecting individuals experiencing homelessness with local non-profits which offer shelter, counseling, health care and mental or substance abuse assistance.

“We are fortunate in Colorado Springs to have a number of well-qualified agencies that are prepared to offer services that can make a difference,” said Andrew Phelps, homelessness outreach and prevention coordinator for the City of Colorado Springs. “I’ve said before that camping is not a safe or dignified option, nor is it a legal one. By connecting the campers at the Quarry with qualified service providers, we hope we can get people out of the elements and connect them with services that can actually set them on the path to permanent housing.”

Among the non-profits providing outreach on Wednesday are the Salvation Army and the Springs Rescue Mission, which are working together to add a combined 320 additional low barrier shelter beds. The Rescue Mission’s 150 new beds will open on December 10. The camp has been posted for cleanup on December 11.

Other non-profits participating are Aspen Pointe, Catholic Charities, Coalition for Compassion and Action, the Community Health Partnership, the El Paso County Department of Human Services, Homeward Pikes Peak, Peak Vista, RMHS Homes for All Veterans, Urban Peak and Westside Cares.

Also, in the wake of the announcement from the State Health Department, the El Paso Department of Public Health will be in attendance offering Hepatitis A vaccinations to anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, which has recently appeared in the community.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

UCHealth pays COS health foundation $675,475 in revenue sharing

Posted By on Wed, Nov 28, 2018 at 10:27 AM

Memorial's stroke center includes an emergency vehicle to respond to stroke patients throughout the community. - PHOTOS COURTESY UCHEALTH MEMORIAL
  • Photos Courtesy UCHealth Memorial
  • Memorial's stroke center includes an emergency vehicle to respond to stroke patients throughout the community.
The city's lease of city-owned Memorial Hospital to UCHealth is again paying off, with a $675,475 revenue-sharing check issued to the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, UCHealth said in a release.

It's the fourth consecutive year UCHealth has issued such a payment since the lease began on Oct. 1, 2012. Revenue sharing totals $4.45 million over the four years. The money is used by the foundation to improve the health of the community.

This year's payment is lower than previous checks due to UCHealth's investment in the local system, including achieving the first Level 1 Trauma Center designation for a facility outside the Denver metro area at Memorial Central and obtaining certification as a comprehensive stroke center. (Despite Memorial having the only such stroke center label in Southern Colorado, the city has instructed emergency crews not to give preference to Memorial for stroke patients, but to also transport them to Penrose Hospital.)
UCHealth Memorial is operated under a 40-year lease that includes participation in providing training to medical students.
  • UCHealth Memorial is operated under a 40-year lease that includes participation in providing training to medical students.
In addition, UCHealth invested in Grandview Hospital to expand the innovative orthopedic care the hospital can provide, UCHealth said in a release.

“Grandview now offers advanced orthopedic specialties from a host of talented surgeons using state-of-the-art equipment," Joel Yuhas, president and CEO of UCHealth Memorial, said in the release. "While such investments in physician growth, new services and new facilities in fiscal year 2018 resulted in a decrease this year in our revenue-sharing payment, we are confident these investments will benefit the health of residents in southern Colorado for years to come.”

Revenue-sharing payments stem from earnings in excess of baseline percentages outlined in the 40-year lease, under which UCHealth also pays the foundation roughly $5.6 million a year, among other provisions.

From the release:
Growth this past year included:
• A 19 percent increase in hospitalized patients at Memorial Central and North
• A 39 percent increase in Emergency Department visits at both campuses
• A 25 percent increase in outpatient visits
• The addition of 70 physicians to the UCHealth Medical Group, improving access to primary and specialty care

Among the many advancements made in the past year:
• In April, the State of Colorado designated UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central as a Level I Trauma Center, making it the only hospital in southern Colorado to achieve the highest classification for trauma care.
• The expansion of Memorial Hospital North continues, with eight additional exam rooms, including two new trauma suites, recently added to the emergency department. Two new operating rooms were also opened, and a new 47-bed tower is scheduled to open to patients in February. The new tower adds additional bed capacity for maternity and medical/surgical services, as well as an expansion of the cancer center.
• In January, Memorial Central became the first hospital in southern Colorado designated as a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a classification given to programs that offer the highest and most advanced level of stroke care.
• A new state-of-the-art air ambulance helicopter was added to UCHealth LifeLine’s transport fleet to ensure patients throughout southern Colorado and northern New Mexico receive rapid and safe transport to needed medical services.
• Pikes Peak Regional Hospital in Woodland Park joined UCHealth.
• Grandview Hospital became fully owned and operated by UCHealth.

“UCHealth has advanced the level of care in Colorado Springs, and those are dividends that play out in multiple ways – in the health of our families that receive care there and via the Colorado Springs Health Foundation, which will use the funds to address crucial needs in our region and support organizations that encourage healthy living,” City Councilor Merv Bennett said said in the release. “This is not only a tribute to the entire team at UCHealth Memorial, but also a reminder to the citizens of Colorado Springs that they made an important decision in 2012 in choosing UCHealth to lead the hospital.”
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Monday, September 24, 2018

Where to get free flu shots in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2018 at 4:02 PM

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Last flu season, El Paso County Public Health recorded 489 influenza-related hospitalizations: a 35 percent increase from the previous year.

It's about that time again.

To stay out of the hospital, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says everyone 6 months and older should get an influenza vaccine, which can be life-saving for kids. It's best to get one by the end of October.

"When a person receives a flu vaccine, it causes the body to create antibodies,"  a statement from Penrose-St. Francis Health Services explains. "This process takes approximately two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection from this year’s anticipated strains of the flu virus. This is why people need to get a flu shot annually — the vaccination is based on the strains that research indicates will be most common for that year."

Getting a flu shot is especially important for members of high-risk groups, including children younger than 5, adults older than 65, pregnant women, nursing-home residents, and those with certain medical conditions, the statement adds. People from these groups are prone to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.

Try vaccinefinder.org to find locations near you with the flu vaccine. If you're uninsured or don't have vaccine coverage, never fear. Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses will stick it to you for free at the following clinics for adults and children over 4:

Saturday, Oct. 5 from 9 to 11 a.m. @ Mission Medical, 2125 E. LaSalle St.

Monday, Oct. 15 from 2:30 to 4:30 pm. @ Dream Center Women’s Clinic, 4360 Montebello Dr. # 900

Wednesday, Oct. 17 from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. @ Family Connections, 917 E. Moreno Ave.

Friday, Oct. 19 from 9 to 11 a.m. @ Connections 4 Life, 6436 US-85, Fountain

Friday, Oct. 19 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. @ Ecumenical Social Ministries, 201 N. Weber St.

Tuesday, Oct. 23 from 9 to 11 a.m. @ Westside CARES, 2808 Colorado Ave.

Wednesday, Oct. 24 from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. @ Grace Be Unto You Outreach Church, 3195 Airport Road

Monday, Oct. 29 from 12 to 2 p.m. @ Tri-Lakes Cares, 235 Jefferson St., Monument

Monday, Nov. 5 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. @ Mercy’s Gate, 4360 Montebello Dr. #300

Tuesday, Nov. 6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. @ Marian House Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, 14 West Bijou St.

Tuesday, Nov. 20 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. @ Iglesia Nueva Vida, 124 Delaware Dr.

Wednesday, Nov. 21 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. (Springs Rescue Mission Thanksgiving Dinner) @ Colorado Springs City Auditorium, 221 East Kiowa St.

On Sunday, Oct. 6 from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., you can also attend the 9Health Fair at Mission Medical Center to get free flu shots, Pap smears, Body Mass Index tests, and foot screenings, as well as low-cost blood screenings ($20 to $40). Just make sure to register online.
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Friday, September 14, 2018

Three ways to help women beat ovarian cancer

Posted By on Fri, Sep 14, 2018 at 2:06 PM

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One woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer every day in Colorado. And every 40 hours, the disease kills a Colorado woman, according to the Sue DiNapoli Ovarian Cancer Society.

The Southern Colorado nonprofit works to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, and helps the women fighting it pay for medical expenses, prescriptions, household expenses and health insurance deductibles.

Since there's no test for ovarian cancer (it's not covered in a Pap test), women's best defense against the disease is being able to recognize its symptoms, the Ovarian Cancer Society says. Those can include bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain or pressure, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urgent or frequent urination. Women experiencing these symptoms for more than two weeks may have early-stage ovarian cancer, and should see a gynecologist for further testing.

If the disease is diagnosed early, a woman's chance of survival is 93% — more than double her chances when the diagnosis is late-stage cancer.

Here's how you can show your support for the women fighting this disease for Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and into the future.

1. Get a tattoo

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Between Sept. 11 and Sept. 15, Fallen Heroes Tattoo is donating $40 for every $60 tattoo to the Ovarian Cancer Society. On Saturday, the business will host an all-day party with lunch from Bird Dog BBQ, vendors and more to conclude its five-day Tattooathon event.

If you haven't scheduled an appointment, owner Brenda Brown says there's still a few times available through the 15th. "We are willing to stay as late as people are willing to come," she promises.

This is Fallen Heroes Tattoo's third year supporting the Sue DiNapoli Ovarian Cancer Society. Brown says the goal is to raise $15,000 — nearly double the $8,000 raised last year.

Call (719) 635-7431 to schedule an appointment with Fallen Heroes Tattoo, located at 524 W. Colorado Ave.

2. Get your exercise

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The Ovarian Cancer Society's 10th Annual Be Ovary Aware 5K Run 3K Walk is Sunday, Sept. 16 at America the Beautiful Park. Registration is $35 for adults and $25 for youth 16 and under ($40 and $30 if you wait till the day of).

There are cash prizes for the first, second and third place 5K winners in each category. Whether or not you beat out the competition, you'll get an event shirt, a runners' bag, a door prize ticket and post-race snacks from Wooglin's Deli.

The event will also feature a pre-run yoga stretch, door prize drawings and a memorial balloon release.

3. Rock out

Double Your Trouble will donate a portion of proceeds from its Oct. 20 concert at Stargazers Theatre to the Ovarian Cancer Society. - JOHN ODEN
  • John Oden
  • Double Your Trouble will donate a portion of proceeds from its Oct. 20 concert at Stargazers Theatre to the Ovarian Cancer Society.
Clear your calendar Oct. 20 for Double Your Trouble's Stevie Ray Vaughan tribute concert at Stargazers Theatre and Event Center.

Double Your Trouble consists of Randy Stephens on guitar and vocals, Bill Taylor on bass and Kevin McBride on drums.

Tickets are $15 to $20 plus fees, and a portion of the proceeds will support the Ovarian Cancer Society. Stephens says Double Your Trouble will also give away a Stevie Ray Vaughan replica guitar at the event.

The show starts at 8 p.m., and doors open at 7. Stargazers Theatre is located at 10 S. Parkside Dr.
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Thursday, September 13, 2018

FDA cracks down on teen e-cigarette use

Posted By on Thu, Sep 13, 2018 at 9:46 AM

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is cracking down on e-cigarette retailers, including a handful in Colorado Springs.

After a "nationwide, undercover blitz" of retailers around the country this summer, the FDA issued 1,300 warning letters and fines to businesses that illegally sold Juul and other e-cigarette products to minors, according to a Sept. 12 announcement. The statement called teen e-cigarette use a problem of "epidemic proportions," citing data that showed more than two million teens used the products in 2017.

Six businesses in Colorado Springs got warning letters, and one, Extreme Vape Pens, was issued a fine. (About 50 retailers earned warning letters or fines statewide.)


Colorado has the highest rate of teen e-cigarette use in the country, according to a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than one in every four Colorado teens, or 26.2 percent, use e-cigarettes or products such as e-cigars, e-pipes, vape pipes, vaping pens, e-hookahs, and hookah pens. That's nearly twice the national average of 14.3 percent.

On the other hand, just 7 percent of Colorado teens use cigarettes, compared to 8.2 percent of teens nationwide.

FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb addressed the increased use of e-cigarette products among teens in strong terms, vowing to make business difficult for manufacturers that didn't work to solve the problem.

"In enabling a path for e-cigarettes to offer a potentially lower risk alternative for adult smokers, we won’t allow the current trends in youth access and use to continue, even if it means putting limits in place that reduce adult uptake of these products,” he is quoted in the FDA's statement.

The FDA issued letters to the top five manufacturers of e-cigarette products (JUUL, Vuse, MarkTen XL, blu e-cigs, and Logic), demanding within 60 days plans "describing how they will address the widespread youth access and use of their products."

If the plans aren't sufficient, the FDA says it might require manufacturers to take flavored products — which it claims are particularly appealing to teens — off the market. The agency is also reexamining its timeline for manufacturers to comply with strict new federal guidelines announced last year. 
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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

ACLU thinks prison population can be cut in half by 2025 in Colorado

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2018 at 11:23 AM

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Colorado can and should cut its prison population in half by 2025, according to a Sept. 5 report from the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado.

The report is one of 50 Blueprints for Smart Justice from the ACLU that identify problems with mass incarceration on a state-by-state basis. The point is to open discussion about each state’s unique situation and find solutions that work.

Here are the main takeaways from Colorado’s Blueprint.

How we stack up:

Colorado’s prison population is 20,136 as of June, down from 23,274 at its peak in 2008. The state ranked 16th in the nation for the number of people incarcerated, or under community supervision like parole or probation, on a per-capita basis: 2,830 per 100,000 adult residents in 2015.

Colorado had the ninth highest incarceration rate for black people, and the fourth highest for Latino people, as of 2014.

Of those incarcerated, 18 percent were in private prisons, compared to 7 percent of the state prison population across the U.S. The number of people in Colorado’s private prisons increased 83 percent between 2000 and 2018.

Colorado ranked 11th in the number of people serving life sentences as of 2016.

The problems:

The ACLU’s report argues that harsh sentence enhancement laws, such as those for habitual offenders, and mandatory minimum sentences are driving mass incarceration in Colorado.

Although Senate Bill 13-250 helped reduce prison sentences for drug possession (14 percent of people convicted of possession were sent to prison after the bill’s 2013 passage, compared to 19 percent before), drug sentences still account for one in seven admissions.

Racial disparity is staggering. While black people made up 4 percent of Colorado’s adult population in 2017, they constituted 18 percent of the prison population. Latino people made up 19 percent of the adult population and 32 percent of the prison population. And American Indians made up less than 1 percent of the adult state population, but they represented 3 percent of the prison population.

The number of imprisoned women increased 58 percent between 2000 and 2018 — more than twice the rate for men.

Almost three-fourths of prisoners had issues with substance abuse as of June. While 37 percent of prisoners were considered to have mental health needs, only 5 percent were enrolled in mental health programs.

The solutions:

Colorado should start looking at addiction not as a crime, but as a public health problem, the ACLU’s report says. That means looking into alternatives to incarceration such as diversion programs and community-based treatment.

The ACLU recommends creating legislation that will reduce overcharging and disincentivize plea bargaining, and remove mandatory minimums or indeterminate sentences in some cases.

Colorado should decriminalize nonviolent conduct and reclassify nonviolent felony offenses to misdemeanors, the report says.

The report also stresses the necessity of implementing racial justice strategies, such as ending overpolicing in communities of color, eliminating bias in charging and plea-bargaining practices, eliminating wealth-based incarceration.

The ACLU proposes reducing the prison population by 9,086 people, which would save the state more than $675 million.

That’s no easy task, but here’s what it suggests:

1. Institute alternatives that end all admissions for drug possession.
2. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 60 percent for public order offenses.
3. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 50 percent for drug distribution, theft, other property offenses and fraud.
4. Institute alternatives that reduce admissions by 40 percent for assault, burglary and robbery.
5. Reduce the average time served by 60 percent for public order offenses, assault, burglary, robbery, drug distribution, theft, other property offenses, fraud, motor vehicle theft and weapons offenses.

Rep. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, has made criminal justice reform one of his top priorities while in office, sponsoring a long list of bills that include revamping the Division of Youth Services and expanding restorative justice programs. Lee called the ACLU's Blueprint for Smart Justice "very well-written" and said it "proposed some practical, though difficult to implement remedies."

Lee, along with Republican Sen. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs, recently sponsored a bill to expand the use of community corrections as an alternative to prison — one of the ACLU's suggestions for cutting down the prison population.
The community corrections system in Colorado provides services to convicted adults who are “halfway in” or “halfway out” of prison. Community corrections, which includes housing and supervision, is either a “last chance” before being sent to prison, or a way for those leaving the criminal justice system to transition back into the community.

Lee's bill, which Gov. Hickenlooper signed in May, requires the Colorado State Board of Parole to submit a list of offenders for community corrections transition placement referrals to the state Department of Corrections, who will choose whether or not to make a referral. Community corrections boards, which then decide whether to accept or reject an offender, must do so through a “structured, research-based decision-making process that combines professional judgment and actuarial risk and needs assessment tools,” according to the bill.
Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum. - MATTHEW SCHNIPER
  • Matthew Schniper
  • Rep. Pete Lee, flanked by Rep. Tony Exum.
Before the bill's passage, Lee says the state's community corrections program was often bogged down by a lack of communication. There were problems with the system that had "common-sense" solutions, he says.

For example, if a local community corrections board didn't want to accept a certain offender, it could just reject someone, sending the person back to the Department of Corrections and contributing to overcrowding, Lee says. The bill, he adds, helps ensure decisions are more "rationally based" by requiring a response about why someone was rejected, and keeping the door open for that person to be accepted in the future after meeting further requirements. Perhaps a local board would want an offender to get a GED so they could work in the community, for example.

But community corrections is just one piece of the puzzle. Lee believes another imperative is changing the bail system to reduce wealth-based discrimination, which can disproportionately affect minority communities. He says bail should be based on whether someone is a danger to the community, and whether they're a flight risk.

"Poor people don’t have bail, so they stay in jail, and the decision as to whether or not they should stay in jail is based on not having money," Lee says. "We have the local sheriff’s department asking for a tax increase to get more bed space in the jail because we’re reaching capacity. Well, we wouldn’t reach capacity if we had a better bail system, or non-monetary bail if we did a risk-based release system."

Is the ACLU's ambitious proposal doable? Lee says it will take bipartisan support, especially on issues such as reducing sentences. "A lot of the ideas that are recommended in that ACLU report have been proposed in the Colorado legislature," he says.

Democrats and Republicans have in the past found common ground on criminal justice reform. Gardner and Lee, for example, recently joined forces to lead a comprehensive review of Colorado's juvenile justice system, in partnership with the Council of State Governments Justice Center. They'll introduce proposed changes at next year's legislative session.

"The fundamental principle I operate from is that we ought to reserve the most expensive option, prison, for people who really constitute a risk to public safety," Lee says.

Lee is term-limited and cannot run for re-election in the House this fall, but is running for the state Senate District 11 seat, left vacant by departing Sen. Michael Merrifield. Gardner's term ends in 2021.
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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

20-year-old hiker missing in Mount Herman area

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2018 at 3:51 PM

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UPDATE: As of Sept. 10, the search for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming, was still underway a week after he went missing in the Mount Herman area.

The search continues for Kevin Rudnicki, a 20-year-old student at the University of Wyoming who went missing Labor Day weekend in the Mount Herman area.

Rudnicki was last seen around 8:45 a.m. Sept. 2, and was known to be hiking in the Mount Herman area near Raspberry Mountain, says El Paso County spokesperson Jacqueline Kirby.

At first, it seemed normal for Rudnicki to be absent — he often camps and hikes in the area while on vacation from school, Kirby says. But concerns grew when he wasn't home by late evening. Kirby says he was expected back at school Sept. 3.

El Paso, Douglas and Fremont counties' search and rescue teams, the Forest Service, and private citizens have joined in the search effort.

Rudnicki is 5'9" and weighs 140 pounds, according to a missing poster shared on Facebook. He was last seen wearing a green T-shirt, khaki cargo shorts, a Wyoming baseball cap and tan military boots.

The disappearance is all the more disturbing a year after the death of cyclist Tim Watkins, who vanished last September while riding in the Mount Herman area. His body was found three days later near Limbaugh Canyon. The case is still unsolved.

It's unknown at this time whether foul play was a factor in Rudnicki's disappearance, Kirby says.

Any tips or information need to be reported to the Palmer Lake Police Department 719-481-2934.
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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Environment Colorado, the Arc and others rally for multiple causes

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 6:32 PM

Advocates from the Arc Pikes Peak Region display facts about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Advocates from the Arc Pikes Peak Region display facts about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Wednesday, Aug. 29 seemed like the perfect day to exercise First Amendment rights, as groups gathered in front of City Hall and ACE Cash Express to drum up support for their respective causes.

A handful of representatives from the Arc Pikes Peak Region, an organization that advocates for people with disabilities, said they were rallying in front of City Hall to stress the importance of benefit programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Medicaid, as well as accessible buildings and infrastructure.

"We want people with disabilities to get out and have their voices heard, so that starts with registering to vote and then getting to the polls in November," says Christina Butero, guardianship coordinator for the Arc Pikes Peak Region. "Far too often people with disabilities feel like their voice won’t be heard if they vote, and that’s just not true."

Charlotte McClanahan, a community facilitator in the Arc's guardianship program, cares for a woman who uses a wheelchair. They stopped by the Arc's event to push for a city that's easier to navigate.

"Downtown, the immediate downtown, is very accessible, but you get very far and you’ve got broken sidewalks and issues along those lines," McClanahan says.

(The Independence Center, a local nonprofit serving people with disabilities, recently organized a survey of parking lots in the region. Surveyors found more than 100 parking lots that weren't fully compliant with ADA standards. That may be because neither the city nor the Regional Building Department enforces them.)

Supporters of the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans protest in front of ACE Cash Express. - ANA TEMU
  • Ana Temu
  • Supporters of the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans protest in front of ACE Cash Express.

A similarly sized group stood in front of ACE Cash Express at Academy Boulevard and Galley Road, representing the Campaign to Stop Predatory Payday Loans. That campaign's Proposition 111 will be on the ballot this November.

Proposition 111 would lower maximum charges for payday loans to an annual percentage rate of 36 percent. Currently, the maximum charges are $20 for the first $300 loaned, 7.5 percent of any amount over $300, and a 45 percent interest rate.

Proponents of the measure argue that payday lenders take advantage of vulnerable communities.

“We’ve seen many families fall prey to this never ending debt trap due to unscrupulous fees and ridiculously high interest rates and believe they deserve a better chance to rise out of financial pitfalls and live a dignified life,” Meghan Carrier, lead organizer for Together Colorado, is quoted in an Aug. 28 statement from the campaign.

Clean-air advocates rally in support of low-emissions vehicle standards. - ENVIRONMENT COLORADO
  • Environment Colorado
  • Clean-air advocates rally in support of low-emissions vehicle standards.

And last week, another group flexed its First Amendment muscle in support of low-emissions vehicles.

Environment Colorado's event Aug. 23 in Acacia Park encouraged the public to support Gov. Hickenlooper's plan for stricter emissions standards. The governor announced June 19 that Colorado's Department of Public Health and Environment would develop an LEV program in line with California's. That executive order came in response to the federal government's rollback of  vehicle greenhouse gas and fuel efficiency standards for model years 2022 and beyond.

Environment Colorado collected nearly 1,500 petitions and more than 200 sign-ons from businesses supporting clean-car standards in the 72 hours leading up to its event in Acacia Park, says director Garrett Garner-Wells. The group will continue to push people to voice their support for low-emissions vehicle standards for the duration of the public comment period, which ends in November.

"Coloradans are really excited about this with the summer that we’ve had when it comes to wildfires," Garner-Wells says. "It’s wild what we’re doing to our air here in this state, and this is something we can do that’s a concrete step to begin cleaning that up and addressing climate change as an underlying factor in things like wildfires as well."
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Showered with Love takes homeless hygiene mobile

Posted By on Thu, Aug 30, 2018 at 4:29 PM

The Showered with Love trailer has three stalls with showers, sinks and toilets. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • The Showered with Love trailer has three stalls with showers, sinks and toilets.

Kelly Terrien, a local business owner and veteran, created Showered with Love when she "wanted to do something to give back to the community — something that was needed."

The result: a three-stall trailer with showers, sinks and toilets, where people experiencing homelessness can have access to "the basics for self-care."

For now, Terrien will park the trailer outside the Salvation Army's R.J. Montgomery Center shelter, where it will serve guests as the shelter remodels its bathrooms to make them more family-friendly. The Salvation Army will also partner with Showered with Love to bring its services to different areas of the community that may be far from downtown's shelters and nonprofits.

"There are homeless neighbors throughout the entire city," says Salvation Army spokesperson Jeane Turner. "If you can show them that they're loved and help them clean up," she says, that could be a first step on the path out of homelessness.

David Kauffman, the Salvation Army county coordinator, mentions Powers Boulevard as one area where homelessness is less visible than in downtown, but where services like Showered with Love's are of use. "This is one of the ways we can make a touchpoint with them."

Terrien also hopes her trailer can help the working homeless. Perhaps that looks like someone with a minimum-wage job, living in a car — someone who might not be as noticeable as a chronically homeless individual, but still needs a place to shower.

She says the nonprofit is looking for donations and volunteers. Currently, Terrien has just one other person on staff, but wants to hire a full-time operations manager. Showered with Love also needs a truck to pull the trailer, and items such as shampoo, conditioner and feminine hygiene products.

You can donate online here.
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Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Mental Health Colorado helps kids handle back-to-school stress

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2018 at 3:30 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
When it comes to youth mental health, Colorado doesn't score well. Mental Health in America ranks it 48th in the country, in fact, according to a set of factors that include rates of youth depression, substance use and available services.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24 in Colorado, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. (Nationally, it's the third leading cause).

And Colorado ranks ninth in the nation for overall suicides, with El Paso County among the hotspots. In 2016, there were 15 completed youth suicides, a jump from seven in 2014 and 14 in 2015, according to El Paso County Public Health.

These statistics are a dismal way to start the conversation about how to treat mental health in schools, but represent both a crisis and an opportunity, says Andrew Romanoff, CEO of Mental Health Colorado.

"The crisis is that kids are struggling and suffering and too often dying on account of untreated mental illness," Romanoff says. "And the opportunity I think here is to become a national leader. I mean Colorado is growing fast, but we’re still a relatively small state, and we could turn this state around. We could become a national leader in mental health."

Mental Health Colorado hopes to help the state edge closer to that goal through its School Mental Health Toolkit, a free online resource released in June meant for schools, districts, teachers and parents across the state. It outlines steps schools can take — such as screenings, suicide prevention and wellness plans — to combat mental illness and keep their students safe.

Romanoff, a former state House speaker, wants to make the toolkit available in every district around the state. With 178 districts and 1,800 schools, that's no small task. Mental Health Colorado is working with local allies to launch the toolkits in schools, and seeking grant money to make the strategies easier to implement.

There's a crucial difference between mental health challenges students face now, versus just a generation ago, Romanoff points out.

"In the era of social media where your life is often online 24 hours a day, seven days a week, that can add to the stress," he says. "It used to be that your chances of being bullied might have gone down dramatically once you got out of school, and now that threat can follow you home and keep you up all night and drive you to some pretty bad consequences."

To help parents and kids understand and deal with that reality, Mental Health Colorado also provides free five-minute, doctor-approved online screenings. The informal questionnaires test for a range of disorders, including anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD and more.

There's also a questionnaire for parents, which helps them identify whether their child may be showing signs of mental illness.

Romanoff says he's heard from some districts that they've met with resistance from parents when trying to implement new strategies. For that reason, he says it's important to educate parents in particular about mental health.

"Parents don’t want their kids to be labeled or diagnosed or branded," he says. "Some parents feel like it’s a reflection on their skills as parents. What we’re trying to help people understand is that mental illness is not a character flaw. It’s a medical condition. And it doesn’t have to be a death sentence: It’s treatable."

Anyone — teens, parents, teachers, readers — experiencing a mental health crisis can call Colorado Crisis Service's free, confidential number at 844/493-8255, or text “TALK” to 38255.
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Wednesday, August 15, 2018

A map of the red-light camera locations chosen by the city

Posted By on Wed, Aug 15, 2018 at 1:39 PM

WALTER BAXTER
  • Walter Baxter
After analyzing factors like collision data, traffic volume and speeding, the city has chosen four intersections for red-light cameras:

• Northbound Academy Boulevard at Carefree Circle
• Eastbound Platte Avenue at Chelton Road
• Westbound Briargate Boulevard at Lexington Drive
• Southbound Academy Boulevard at Dublin Boulevard

Violators caught by cameras will be fined $75, not including court costs.

It's not the first time Colorado Springs has taken a swing at red-light cameras. The first, short-lived attempt began in 2010 before Steve Bach's tenure as mayor. Cameras were placed at four intersections (completely different from the newly selected ones) for about a year. But the project got the red light in October 2011, just over a year later, when the city found it was "not meeting safety expectations" and Bach called for an end to the unpopular program.


"According to data supplied by program partner, American Traffic Solutions, Inc. (ATS), while there was an overall modest (30 percent) reduction in red-light running violations through September, results varied widely," reads a 2011 release from the city announcing the shutdown.

"For example, the program had a 22 percent increase in violations at the north-bound approach on Nevada Avenue at Bijou Street. In addition, preliminary information from the City’s Traffic Engineering and Police Departments showed the program had no impact on dangerous front-to-side collisions at program intersections."

Colorado Springs Police Department Chief Pete Carey supported shutting down the program in 2011. “A review of the data after one year shows conflicting information at best," he's quoted in the city's release. "We discussed the program with Mayor Bach and determined citizens would be best served if we reassigned personnel to other priority functions.”

However, Carey last fall argued for reinstating red-light enforcement, saying cameras were necessary because of an officer shortage and a rising number of traffic accidents and fatalities.

This year is set to break traffic fatality records in Colorado Springs. Last year, there were a total of 39 accident-related deaths, the most ever. This year, there have already been 32 (compared with only 22 at this time in 2017).

“If [installing cameras] saves lives and prevents hospital visits, I think we should do it," Carey said at a public forum last year.

But whether they do is still an if. Studies have shown mixed results as to whether red-light cameras actually make people safer. Some show that installing cameras results in fewer T-bone crashes, but more rear-ends.

There's also the "training effect" on drivers.

The Gazette quotes Mayor John Suthers as saying the cameras will help, because people "forget exactly which intersection it is, so it has the effect of making people a lot more careful within a radius.”
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Monday, July 30, 2018

Independence Center honors veterans with disabilities

Posted By on Mon, Jul 30, 2018 at 1:15 PM

Mayor John Suthers grants Kim Nguyen, left, and Tara Thomas with an award for the Military Artistic Healing Program at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. - COURTESY MATT GETZE
  • Courtesy Matt Getze
  • Mayor John Suthers grants Kim Nguyen, left, and Tara Thomas with an award for the Military Artistic Healing Program at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.

El Paso County has the fifth largest population of veterans with disabilities in the country, Mayor John Suthers said in a speech at the Independence Center's annual ADA Luncheon, Celebrating Veterans with Disabilities.

Out of 100,000 veterans in the county, 37,000 have disabilities, Suthers said. That amounts to more than Cook County, Illinois or New York City.

And that's partly why the community gathered July 26 to recognize the local organizations that do the most to serve those who serve us, on the 28th anniversary of the day President George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Independence Center's 2018 award recipients:

Colorado Veterans Resource Coalition: This organization works to end veteran homelessness by providing transitional housing. The coalition's Crawford House in Colorado Springs is a temporary, structured environment for those overcoming addiction.

Achilles Pikes Peak: The team at our local chapter of Achilles International provides adaptive recreation opportunities for veterans with disabilities, including cycling, running, hiking, and more.

Military Artistic Healing Program at Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center: "The ability for veterans to share their feelings is a vital part of the healing process," Suthers says. These art classes help them to do just that.

Team Rubicon: This organization helps veterans "find a sense of identity through service," Suthers says. Veterans who are part of the program help those affected by natural disasters, using their skills and experience from the military to respond to emergencies.

Home Front Cares: This program helps create a safety net for veterans by providing grants for rent, utilities, car repair and other forms of emergency assistance for those at risk of homelessness.

At the luncheon, the Independence Center also highlighted its Veteran in Charge program, which helps veterans who might otherwise be placed in a nursing home to stay in their own homes for as long as possible. That support includes a flexible monthly budget that allows veterans to choose the services they need, including assistive devices such as chair lifts, meal delivery, transportation and in-home care.
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Tuesday, July 24, 2018

EPA invites community members to speak about PFC contamination

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2018 at 8:57 AM

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Representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency will visit Colorado Springs on Aug. 7 and 8 to hear from community members about perfluorinated compounds (PFCs), toxic chemicals used by the Air Force for firefighting, that contaminated water supplies in Colorado.

Members of the public who've been affected by PFCs in their drinking water can sign up online for three-minute speaking slots Aug. 7 between 4 and 10 p.m. A working session, also open to the public, is set for Aug. 8 from 9:45 a.m. to noon.

Both events will be held at the Hotel Eleganté, located at 2886 S. Circle Dr.

The Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition and Fountain Creek Water Sentinels are among organizations speaking at the Aug. 7 event, says Liz Rosenbaum, cofounder of the coalition.

Rosenbaum says the Clean Water Coalition has been working with the EPA to ensure there's plenty of time for residents to voice their opinions.

"I absolutely think something good will come out of this," Rosenbaum says. "Because it’s the first time the community can be heard."

The Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition was among organizations across the country that protested the EPA's unwillingness to let community groups, journalists and even legislative staff attend a national summit on PFCs in May.

Since then, EPA representatives have visited a New Hampshire community affected by PFCs, and will visit Pennsylvania on July 25.

Aquifers in the Security, Widefield and Fountain areas that were affected by PFCs are now safe for drinking, officials say, after the city of Fountain began treating water through a new process. The Clean Water Coalition is still pushing for health studies to learn more about the effects of the contaminants, Rosenbaum says.

And tests recently showed PFCs in several groundwater wells that supply drinking water to north metro Denver, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment announced July 12.

The Denver Post reports that South Adams County Water and Sanitation District officials found levels of PFCs ranging from 24 parts per trillion (ppt) to 2,280 ppt in 12 wells along Quebec Parkway near Interstate 70. That's up to 32 times more than the EPA's current acceptable limit for PFCs, which is 70 ppt.

However, a study released June 20 by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry suggests that safe drinking water should contain less than 12 ppt.

All together, the contaminated wells in Denver supply water to 50,000 residents across 65 square miles, the Post reports.
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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

NAMI offers free "Mental Health First Aid" events

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2018 at 2:00 PM

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A series of free events from the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Colorado Springs, better known as NAMI Colorado Springs, will help family, friends and supporters of those dealing with mental illness learn how to best help.

The first, NAMI Bridges of Hope, is geared toward faith communities. At this July 24 breakfast, participants will learn from presenters about how mental illness affects individuals, families, and communities; and how "faith communities can help congregants touched by mental illness," according to an email from spokesperson Lisa Hawthorne. The event is 8:30 to 10 a.m., and location information will be provided upon registration. Call 473-8477 or email info@namicos.org to register.

Then there's NAMI's Mental Health First Aid Training, an eight-hour class in partnership with AspenPointe that teaches participants "how to help someone who is developing a mental health problem or experiencing a mental health crisis," and how to "identify, understand, and respond to signs of addictions and mental illnesses."

Mental Health First Aid trainings are offered in 23 countries, says Madeline Arroyo, class coordinator with AspenPointe. The class helps participants learn to recognize symptoms of major mental health issues including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse and suicide.

Arroyo says the training is best suited to those over the age of 18, because of the emotional toll that comes with interacting with someone in crisis.

Out of everyone else, "there’s not one person that wouldn’t benefit."

"One in five individuals in any given year is faced with a mental health crisis," Arroyo says. "In the course of a lifetime, one in two. And if it’s not us, it’s one of our loved ones."

Those classes are offered on Aug. 24, Sept. 21, Oct. 26 and Nov. 16 (all Fridays) in the Nautilus Room of the Citizens Service Center, located at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road. Register online at http://www.mhfaco.org/findclass.

A survey released in June by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 17 percent of Colorado teens had seriously considered suicide in the past year, 13.3 percent had made a plan to commit suicide and 7.2 percent had attempted suicide, according to a statement from the Jason Foundation.

We recently wrote about NAMI's Below the Surface campaign, which seeks to raise teens' awareness of Colorado's Crisis Text Line, a free, 24/7 service for people feeling depressed, anxious or upset.

The crisis line, run by Colorado Crisis Services, is free and confidential. Anyone seeking help can call 844/493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255.
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