Thursday, March 21, 2019

El Paso County jail finds scabies and hepatitis A cases

Posted By on Thu, Mar 21, 2019 at 12:53 PM

This is a "medically accurate rendering" of a scabie. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • This is a "medically accurate rendering" of a scabie.

Here's another reason to avoid the county jail: Disease and infestations.

The El Paso County Sheriff's Office and Department of Public Health are cooperating to deal with at least one case of scabies, and one case of hepatitis A in the Criminal Justice Center, officials confirmed.

It's the latest unsavory tale involving CJC, which has been the site of several inmate deaths, attacks on deputies and a riot over jail food in recent years. CJC also has reached capacity several times over the last year.

According to "Tiny mites called Sarcoptes scabiei set up shop in the outer layers of human skin ... As the mites burrow and lay eggs inside the skin, the infestation leads to relentless itching and an angry rash." They can spread to others via prolonged, skin-to-skin contact and through shared items such as bedding or towels.

Hepatitis A, the Mayo Clinic says, is "a highly contagious liver infection caused by the hepatitis A virus," which is one of several types of hepatitis viruses that cause inflammation and affect the liver's functionality. The disease is contracted from contaminated food or water or from close contact with a person or object that's infected. "Mild cases of hepatitis A don't require treatment," the Mayo Clinic says. "Most people who are infected recover completely with no permanent liver damage."

A source who spoke to the Indy on condition of anonymity says multiple cases of scabies have erupted in the jail. The source, who had knowledge of the situation, also said staff are concerned about exposure and wonder if cursory steps are adequate to protect them and others.

But Sheriff's Office spokesperson Jackie Kirby called such cases of both maladies "rare."

"There has not been an outbreak of scabies," she says via email. "We have one confirmed case."

She also says only one case of hepatitis A has been confirmed, adding:
The inmates have received the appropriate treatment and are housed appropriately. The Sheriff’s Office is working closely with Public Health to investigate any close contacts who may have been exposed to this case and provide vaccination to these individuals. This includes other inmates and staff at the jail. Public Health has also been working with the jail since December to vaccinate individuals for hepatitis A during the intake process.
The Criminal Justice Center has had its share of problems. - COURTESY EL PASO COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE
  • Courtesy El Paso County Sheriff's Office
  • The Criminal Justice Center has had its share of problems.
Kirby didn't elaborate on what steps have been taken, but the unnamed source tells the Indy that while one ward was cleaned with disinfectant to guard against the spread of hepatitis A, staffers continue to worry about exposure. That's in part because they have not been told which inmate or inmates are infected. "Isn’t that something we should know?" the source says.

The Department of Public Health reports it's working with the Sheriff's Office to "investigate any close contacts who may have been exposed to this case and provide vaccination to these individuals. This includes other inmates and staff at the jail."

Noting that the case is part of a "larger outbreak" of 18 cases of hepatitis A within the region since last October, El Paso County Public Health spokesperson Danielle Oller says in an email, "Public Health has also been working with the jail since December to vaccinate individuals for hepatitis A during the intake process."

While  the source of the current hepatitis A outbreak hasn't been nailed down, Oller says, "The majority of cases in El Paso County have several risk factors for hepatitis A in common including homelessness and the use of street drugs. Other high risk factors for hepatitis A infection include living with someone who has hepatitis A and traveling to countries that have higher rates of hepatitis A."

As for scabies, it's not a reportable to health officials, unless there is an outbreak. An outbreak is defined as two or more cases, Oller says. "Although scabies is a nuisance, it does not spread disease," she says. "In the event of an outbreak, Public Health would provide guidance on control measures."

Oller noted there have been no outbreaks locally of scabies in 2018 and 2019.
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Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Former Fountain resident testifies on PFASs in D.C.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 6, 2019 at 5:43 PM

Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett. - COURTESY OF MARK FAVORS
  • Courtesy of Mark Favors
  • Mark Favors, second from left, submitted written testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment. He spoke with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, D-New York, center, about the effects of PFAS contamination on his family. Also pictured, from left: Chet Whye, Hope Grosse and Loreen Hackett.
An Army veteran who grew up near Peterson Air Force Base was among those in attendance at a House subcommittee hearing March 6 on Capitol Hill. The subject: PFASs, a toxic group of chemicals found in household products and military firefighting foam, and their effects on health and the environment.

Lawmakers questioned representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense while holding up the stories of those — including former Fountain resident Mark Favors — who have been personally affected by the military's decades-long use of the chemicals. PFASs, which researchers have linked to low birth weights, liver and kidney cancer, and thyroid problems, leached into the drinking water supply in areas surrounding hundreds of military installations around the world.
"Mark Favors is a U.S. Army veteran who had 16 family members, 16 family members, diagnosed with cancer, all of whom lived next to the Peterson Air Force Base in Fountain, Colorado," Rep. Harley Rouda, D-California, chair of the Oversight and Reform Subcommittee on Environment, said in his opening remarks. "Several of those family members are also veterans."
The Department of Defense has taken some actions to address PFASs, including implementing a new type of firefighting foam that it says is safer for public health and the environment. And on Feb. 14, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed its long-awaited PFAS action plan, announcing it would start the process for setting a maximum contaminant level (MCL) under the Safe Drinking Water Act for two chemicals in the PFAS group, PFOA and PFOS.
But for many lawmakers and advocates, the steps outlined in the plan weren't enough to address the problem, and to hold the Department of Defense accountable for contamination of communities. (Read more on the plan here.)

And Congress is bringing on the pressure.

The same day as the subcommittee hearing, a group of senators signed a letter demanding copies of communications between the EPA, Department of Defense, Office of Management and Budget, and Department of Health and Human Services regarding the PFAS Action Plan and groundwater cleanup guidelines.

And Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner (R) and Michael Bennet (D) were among a bipartisan group of Senators to introduce a bill on March 1 that would require the EPA to designate PFASs as hazardous substances, making polluters responsible for funding cleanup. (An identical bill was introduced in the House in January.)

At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Katie Hill, D-California, began her question for Dave Ross, the EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Water, by saying she had been born on an Air Force base where high concentrations of PFAS chemicals had been detected. She asked Ross whether he, like embattled former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, would call PFAS contamination a "national emergency."

"We do believe it is a major national issue for EPA and our federal partners to address," Ross said, citing the agency's successful effort to get manufacturers to voluntarily pull products containing PFOA and PFOS off the market.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, told the story of a woman who grew up in Warminster, Pennsylvania near the Naval Air Warfare Center.

"[Hope] Grosse was diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer at the age of 25 years old," Ocasio-Cortez said. "Ms. Grosse's father died of cancer at 52 years of age, and her sister suffered from ovarian cysts, lupus, fibromyalgia and abdominal aneurysms. She worries that she has unwittingly exposed her own children to [PFAS] chemicals as well... Mr. Ross, do you believe that the EPA should further regulate these chemicals?"

"Yes, and that’s what we’ve stated in our action plan," Ross replied. "We have a robust plan to regulate these chemicals across a wide variety of our programs."

Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, asked whether the Department of Defense knew how many active service members, veterans and their families had had been exposed to the chemicals.

"Our health affairs staff is going to be conducting a health study and creating an inventory of those service members that have been exposed through drinking water or occupational exposure and work in coordination with the Veterans Administration to share that information," replied Maureen Sullivan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment.

The hearing was held the same day that Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit advocacy organization, released an updated map with information on 106 military sites where drinking water or groundwater is contaminated with PFASs. (The Department of the Defense has said that there are 401 sites in the U.S. alone with known or suspected contamination.)

The group also released a report with several recommendations for Congress and President Donald Trump's administration.

While the problem of PFAS contamination has persisted for decades without major enforcement actions by the federal government, Congress's renewed interest could move the needle on the issue, says Melanie Benesh, Environmental Working Group's legislative attorney.
"I think Congress will continue to push the [EPA] and do everything that they’re doing now —introducing bills, holding oversight hearings — and I think the states have an important role to play," Benesh says. "State policy tends to move federal policy and tends to move marketplace actions... And then there’s a whole grassroots network of people who have been affected by these chemicals, particularly veterans and military families, and those voices really matter."

Peterson Air Force Base replaced the old firefighting foam in all of its emergency response vehicles in 2016, a spokesperson said. The new, supposedly safer formula is only used in emergencies, and not during training.

Water districts surrounding the base have changed water sources or filtration systems since evidence of contamination began to emerge in 2015.

But the spread of PFASs in drinking water left lasting effects that should have been addressed by the state, Favors argues.

"Despite having a budget surplus in 2018 of over $1.1 billion, the state of Colorado still has not
conducted a formal investigation on the scope of the PFAS contamination, conducted PFAS
blood level tests of our affected children, nor passed legally enforceable MCLs of PFAS in
drinking water," Favors, now a New York resident, wrote in his testimony to Congress.

Favors goes on to list the 10 blood relatives and in-laws he has lost to cancer, all of whom lived for years near Peterson Air Force Base.
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Friday, February 22, 2019

Fort Carson's privately managed housing isn't safe, residents say

Posted By on Fri, Feb 22, 2019 at 4:09 PM

Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations. - COURTESY OF FORT CARSON
  • Courtesy of Fort Carson
  • Balfour Beatty Communities manages family housing on Fort Carson and 54 other installations.

As horrors apparently common to privately managed military housing — such as mold, rodents and lead paint — move into the national spotlight, dozens of soldiers and their families who live on Fort Carson seized the opportunity to speak up.

At a town hall Feb. 21, where Garrison Commander Col. Brian Wortinger invited those who live on post to share their concerns, soldiers and their spouses expressed frustration with poor conditions and a maintenance team that took hours, days or weeks to respond to potential safety hazards.

"The biggest problem that my family faces in our house is mice. Mice everywhere. Mice all the time," one woman said, adding that she found evidence of the critters in her son's crib and baby food.

"What are you guys going to do to actually rid our homes of these pests? Because they’re disgusting and a huge safety hazard for our families," she finished to applause.

Fort Carson held the town hall the week after Army Secretary Mark Esper announced that he was "deeply troubled" by reports of "deficient conditions in some of our family housing" and had ordered the Department of the Army Inspector General to look into the problems.

That announcement came the same day witnesses at a Senate Armed Services subcommittee hearing horrified lawmakers with stories of mold, pests, lead paint and resulting health problems. Their stories aren't unique: Survey results released Feb. 13 by the Military Family Advisory Network showed that out of nearly 17,000 respondents, more than half reported a "negative" or "very negative" experience living on military installations.

"Military families are living in dangerous situations with reports of the existence of black
mold, lead paint, faulty wiring, poor water quality, pesticides, and a wide variety of
vermin, insects, and other animals (e.g., bats, skunks, and squirrels) in their homes," the report said. "Families report illnesses with life-long implications caused by poor housing conditions."

The problems are widespread: Survey participants lived in 46 states, in housing managed by 35 different companies. But about half of respondents lived in housing managed by two companies: Lincoln Military Housing and Balfour Beatty Communities, the latter of which counts Fort Carson among the 55 military installations it serves.

At the town hall, representatives of Balfour Beatty were apologetic but offered little variation in their responses to resident complaints, mostly repeating that issues with maintenance and safety shouldn't have occurred, and that the company was changing its procedures to prevent them from recurring. They asked those who raised concerns to speak with them personally after the town hall, and had maintenance teams on hand to address major safety issues that night.

"I agree, sir," said Christy McGrath, Balfour Beatty's community manager, after one man told her it had taken far too long for someone to repair his heater after it stopped working at 3 a.m. one winter night. He wrapped his young children in blankets while waiting for maintenance, which didn't arrive until around noon the next day.

Winter heating outages are classified as "emergencies," McGrath said, and should be addressed within the hour.

"We are putting things in place and bringing in additional resources to make sure that we meet your customer service need in the time frames that we have pushed," she said. "We’re here tonight to hear from you, hear where our blind spots are."

The company plans to hire a residential satisfaction specialist, said Project Director Steve McIntire, and will begin issuing email surveys and following up on work orders to get residents' feedback on services.

The town hall was also streamed on Facebook Live, where it drew hundreds of angry comments.

Col. Wortinger said this meeting would be the first of several addressing immediate problems, and that the garrison would hold them regularly afterwards. Assessment teams will visit neighborhoods in March, he said, to check on potential hazards like asbestos and peeling paint.

Wortinger said that at the request of senior leadership, he would be "personally tracking" health- and safety-related work orders, and asked residents to reach out to him if their issues weren't being solved by Balfour Beatty.
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Thursday, February 14, 2019

EPA will look at regulating PFAS chemicals

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2019 at 12:36 PM

Doug Benevento, left, and Peter Wright, right, discuss EPA's plans to address PFAS problem.
  • Doug Benevento, left, and Peter Wright, right, discuss EPA's plans to address PFAS problem.

On Feb. 14, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a conference in the city of Fountain to announce plans to address toxic chemicals that have been found in the area’s drinking water, and in the water of communities across the nation.

The chemicals at issue: PFASs, man-made contaminants found to have originated primarily, in the Fountain area, from firefighting foam used by the Air Force Academy for training purposes.

The EPA’s plan outlines steps to develop new analytical tools for four key areas: human health and ecological effects, significant sources of these chemicals, cost and effectiveness of treatment methods, and how best to support stakeholders. However, this plan does not include a maximum contaminant level (MCL) for drinking water, though citizens have been calling for an MCL since the EPA first toured affected areas in 2018.

Representatives from the EPA, regional administrator Doug Benevento and senior counsel to the administrator Peter Wright, said they were bound by the processes put in place by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and had to undergo certain legal steps to declare an MCL and recommend treatment, such as gathering data and undergoing a period of public comment.

The EPA has started this process to set an MCL for two types of PFASs (PFOA and PFOS). By the end of 2019, they hope to propose a regulatory determination for establishing an MCL for both — it may take longer to actually establish that MCL, but they do not have a solid timeframe.

They also announced that the EPA has already issued direct enforcement orders in eight instances of contamination, and have begun steps toward regulating PFASs as dangerous chemicals. They plan to issue groundwater cleanup recommendations soon, but offered no solid timeline.

(You can watch the full presentation on the EPA for Region 8’s Facebook page. Dough Benevento takes the podium for opening remarks at 39 minutes in.)

If all of this strikes you as less than a firm plan, you're not alone. The Environmental Working Group released a statement that read in part:

The Environmental Protection Agency’s so-called PFAS management plan would only make the nationwide crisis of pervasive pollution from fluorinated compounds worse, EWG said.

The plan from the Trump EPA, released today, would not stop the introduction of new PFAS chemicals, end the use of PFAS chemicals in everyday products, alert Americans to the risk of PFAS pollution or clean up contaminated drinking water supplies for an estimated 110 million Americans.

Instead, it perpetuates the agency’s record of foot-dragging on establishing meaningful protections against a class of chemicals linked to cancer, thyroid disease and weakened childhood immunity, among other serious health harms. 

The release goes on to lay out what the EWG believes the EPA ought to do to address PFASs and protect the public. Read the full release here.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Independence Center celebrates accessible health care

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 12:53 PM

Betty Jo Sjoberg, center, nominated Matthews-Vu Medical Group to receive an accessible table and lift from the Independence Center. RMA Manager Brandy James, left, and Director of Operations Paul Novotny represented Matthews-Vu at a luncheon celebrating the equipment giveaways. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Betty Jo Sjoberg, center, nominated Matthews-Vu Medical Group to receive an accessible table and lift from the Independence Center. RMA Manager Brandy James, left, and Director of Operations Paul Novotny represented Matthews-Vu at a luncheon celebrating the equipment giveaways.

It's a widespread problem: The majority of medical providers lack the proper equipment and training to give patients who use wheelchairs a complete check-up.

The Independence Center sought to change that this fall by using $75,000 from its board-run IC fund to buy accessible medical equipment for providers serving Medicaid and Medicare recipients in Southern Colorado.

Available items included the UpScale accessible exam table, which has an adjustable height and built-in scale; Hoyer-type lifts, devices used to transfer patients from wheelchair to table; and the portable loop system, a listening device that feeds audio directly into hearing aids.

Back in June, we reported that the Independence Center planned to donate accessible tables and lifts to at least seven medical clinics in El Paso County, and use the remaining money for loop systems.

The nonprofit ended up donating tables and lifts to nine medical practices, and gave portable hearing loop systems to three, CEO Patricia Yeager announced at a luncheon Feb. 8 celebrating the donations.

The providers who received the equipment were selected from a list of 23 nominees, Yeager says. Patients submitted the nominations to the Independence Center.
"To come into a setting that is already accessible says that somebody thought ahead of time and made arrangements for everyone to be cared for," says Sharon King, who nominated her doctor at Sunrise Health Care to receive a table and lift. "[My doctor] has always been wonderful to me and unflinchingly creative in making ways to care for me, but I'm really grateful to have been able to be a part of giving her something back as kind of a thank-you for the level of care and concern that she provides."

Paul Novotny, director of operations for Matthews-Vu Medical Group, said that in addition to helping patients who used wheelchairs — such as Betty Jo Sjoberg, who nominated the office — the accessible table's built-in scale had also come in handy for patients who used walkers.

"Before we had the table, they would bring the walker and they would stand on our scales," Novotny says. "And it wasn't always the safest, most accurate measurement for their weight."

The Independence Center's website now has a map of providers in the region with accessible exam tables and hearing loops.

Yeager says the nonprofit plans to focus on dental offices this year.

"We'd really like to see if we can create a few accessible dental offices," she says. "I have no idea what that looks like. So that'll be some research we'll be doing, and putting a call out for nominations."
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Transgender man files discrimination charge against local company

Posted By on Wed, Feb 13, 2019 at 11:27 AM

Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need. - COURTESY OF THE ACLU OF COLORADO
  • Courtesy of the ACLU of Colorado
  • Dashir Moore hopes sharing his story will help other transgender people get the care they need.

At 31, Dashir Moore left his family and friends behind in Atlanta for a new life in Colorado Springs. His dream? "To unapologetically be myself."

Moore had heard Colorado's health care system was more inclusive of transgender people than Georgia's, so he got a job at Innosource, an employment agency in Colorado Springs, and scheduled a gender transition surgery that he believed was covered by his employer-provided insurance policy.

On May 21 of last year, Moore went through the surgery. But two days later, he says, he got the news that turned his world upside down: The insurance company had refused to pay for his operation, and he would be obligated to cover nearly $30,000 in hospital bills himself.
"I was just heartbroken," Moore says. "My worst fear basically happened."

Since then, Moore has left Innosource for a different job in Colorado Springs, which pays $5 to $6 less an hour, he says, adding up to an annual salary less than the cost of his surgery. He paid some of the surgery's cost on a payment plan, but as larger bills started rolling in, he could no longer afford them — and has been hit with collections and notices, while the state of his credit means he "can't get approved for anything."

"If I wanted to leave my apartment, I'm stuck," Moore says.

Moore's best hope right now rests with two powerful allies — The American Civil Liberties Union and American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, who have filed a discrimination charge against Innosource on his behalf.

The ACLU is alleging that insurance carve-outs for transition-related care are illegal, based on state and federal law that prohibit discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation.

"Our state anti-discrimination in employment statutes ... prohibit discrimination against employees in the provision of benefits," says Sara Neel, Moore's attorney. "Your health insurance is a benefit associated with your employment, and therefore the employers, we would argue, cannot discriminate against transgender individuals in the provision of health care."

While President Donald Trump's administration has reportedly proposed defining "sex" in a way that excludes transgender people from federal anti-discrimination laws, Colorado law passed in 2008 strengthened protections by explicitly including transgender status under sexual orientation, a protected class. And most transition-related health care, including surgical procedures, is covered by Colorado's Medicaid program.

According to a statement from the ACLU, Moore's employer-provided plan "categorically excluded coverage for anything related to gender transition including 'treatment, drugs, medicines, services, and supplies for, or leading to, gender transition surgery.' The exclusion applied to all transition-related care, including care that is medically necessary and otherwise would be covered under the plan."

What's more: "Prior to his surgery, Mr. Moore completed the necessary pre-op consultation at Denver Health as well as the insurance verification process. He contacted his claims administrator to confirm the surgery would be covered and was assured that it would be."

Neel says she doesn't know of a case like Moore's in which a private employer was successfully charged with discrimination related to health coverage (though a 2016 case challenged Wisconsin's ban on transition-related coverage for state employees). Depending on the outcome of the case, it could make waves nationally.
"The goal in this case is really, obviously, to get Mr. Moore compensated for what he's been required to pay or is being required to pay, and then also to get the employer to change their policy," Neel says."...And to continue to set precedent, because we do believe the law is on our side."

The first step in the process was to file a discrimination charge with the Colorado Civil Rights Division, which will investigate the charge. If a resolution is not reached between Moore and Innosource as a result of the investigation, he could then choose to file a lawsuit, Neel says.

In the meantime, Moore's taking it day by day. Since the denial, he's been prescribed antidepressants and wonders what someone with less mental strength would do in the same situation, in a society where suicide rates for transgender people dwarf those of the general population.

While Moore is open about his transgender status with those close to him, he's not used to talking about it with his employers, much less strangers. He decided to go public with his story in hopes of saving others from the emotional pain and economic uncertainty he's endured for the past year, hundreds of miles from the friends and family he left in Atlanta.

"All the things that I hoped to accomplish by having surgery were kind of erased by the denial," Moore says. "Any moments of joy that I was supposed to have, I didn’t have that."

"...I just don’t want this to happen to anyone else."
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Thursday, February 7, 2019

Green New Deal proposes sweeping environmental change

Posted By on Thu, Feb 7, 2019 at 3:52 PM

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-author of the Green New Deal, and target for anti-socialist rhetoric. - FACEBOOK
  • Facebook
  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, co-author of the Green New Deal, and target for anti-socialist rhetoric.
A bill rolled out in the U.S. House Thursday, Feb. 7, aims to make the U.S. net-zero, emissions wise, by 2050.

Dubbed the “Green New Deal,” the legislation backed by New York freshman Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Sen. Edward J. Markey proposes an overhaul of the nation’s infrastructure, energy and transportation sectors. Both lawmakers are Democrats.

The bill echoes some of Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ priorities laid out in his January State of the State address, and was released the same date that Democratic Senate hopeful Mike Johnston of Denver announced his own green energy proposal.

Polis in January reiterated a campaign pledge to make the state’s energy supply totally renewable by 2040: “That means modernizing both our grid infrastructure and our regulatory processes to ensure all Coloradans are reaping the full suite of benefits associated with swift adoption of renewable energy,” the governor said. “It means working to electrify our cars and busses and trucks ... And it means taking advantage of modern technology to use energy more efficiently — cleaning our air and saving consumers money in the process.”

The federal legislation taps similar goals, although it offers more concepts than details. Among the Green New Deal’s goals:

• To achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions “through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers.”

• To create “millions of good, high-paying jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security” for all Americans.

• To invest in infrastructure and industry

• To promote justice and equity “by stopping current, preventing future and repairing historic oppression of indigenous communities, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustralized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities and youth” — all so-called “frontline and vulnerable communities.” 

It proposes doing so through a massive infrastructure reconstruction effort reminiscent, the bill’s authors said, of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s iconic “The New Deal,” which stabilized a Great Depression economy through jobs and infrastructure construction.

Included in the Green New Deal’s vision:

• Meeting 100 percent of the nation’s power demands through renewable, green energy.

• Building efficient power grids.

• Upgrading the nation’s existing buildings to maximize efficiency.

• Embracing ecologically sound manufacturing processes.

• Encouraging reinvestment and support for family and sustainable farming.

• Overhauling the transportation network to include zero-emission cars and boost high-speed rail.

“Today is a really big day for our economy, the labor movement, the social justice movement, indigenous peoples and people all over the United States of America,” Ocasio-Cortez said during a Thursday press conference. “Today is the day we truly embark on a comprehensive agenda of economic, social and racial justice in the United State of America.”

The proposal offers more breadth than details, and the price tag for the massive overhaul was not immediately known.

Adding to its uphill battle, the response from leaders on both sides of the aisle has been tepid. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, during her Thursday press conference, said “We welcome the enthusiasm that is out there ... The Green New Deal points out the fact that the public is much more aware of the challenge that we face, and that is a good thing.”

But John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican and chair of the Senate Republican Conference, derided the plan: “It’s a socialist manifesto that lays out a laundry list of government giveaways, including guaranteed food, housing, college and economic security even for those who refuse to work,” he said in a statement. “As Democrats take a hard left turn, this radical proposal would take our growing economy off the cliff and our nation into bankruptcy. It’s the first step down a dark path to socialism.”

Read the proposal's full text below:
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Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Local firm had high levels of chromium in discharge water

Posted By on Tue, Jan 29, 2019 at 2:35 PM

The city's Las Vegas Street Water Resource Recovery Facility was the recipient of discharge that exceeded the limit for chromium, Utilities says. - COURTESY COLORADO SPRINGS UTILITIES
  • Courtesy Colorado Springs Utilities
  • The city's Las Vegas Street Water Resource Recovery Facility was the recipient of discharge that exceeded the limit for chromium, Utilities says.

Qualtek Manufacturing
has been hit by a finding that it exceeded limits on chromium discharged from the plant at 4230 N. Nevada Ave. into Colorado Springs Utilities wastewater stream.

While chromium is naturally occurring, ingesting high levels can lead to sickness.

Asked for a comment on the discharge, someone who answered the phone at Qualtek said, "No. I'm sorry."

Qualtek engages in tool and die, stamping and other metal works.

Utilities spokesman Steve Berry says via email no fine will be levied, because of three factors: 1) It was quickly remedied with no reoccurrence; 2) the monitoring plan was adjusted accordingly, and 3) the discharge containing the higher-than-allowed level was limited. In addition, he notes, "There were no operational impacts for our treatment plant."

The Qualtek detection came in November 2017 and registered at 1.24 milligrams per liter, or nearly twice the daily limit for chromium of 0.733 mg/L, according to Utilities.

The discharge went into Utilities' wastewater system, not a creek, Berry notes.

"Their wastewater is treated at the Las Vegas Street Water Resource Recovery Facility," he says. "This violation did not cause any treatment interference at the facility, and we did not have any permit violations or experience atypical chromium loadings. As this wastewater was in the Springs Utilities wastewater collection system, it did not impact any other users."

Berry says the period for which Qualtek was in "significant noncompliance" (SNC) was from Oct. 1, 2017, through March 31, 2018.

Says Berry:
The violation was discovered during a Springs Utilities monitoring event in November 2017, which put Qualtek into significant non-compliance for the SNC evaluation period of October 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018. Qualtek was required to begin completing monthly monitoring of chromium as a result of this violation (where they previously performed quarterly monitoring). All re-sampling completed by Qualtek and Springs Utilities since this event has demonstrated compliance. Additionally, Qualtek has evaluated their manufacturing processes as well as their preventative maintenance to determine the cause of the violation and has made appropriate modifications to prevent future occurrences.

The publication of such findings don't happen until the calendar year following a significant noncompliance event, he says.

The noncompliance "will be reported to the EPA in the 2018 Pretreatment Annual Report, which is due on March 28, 2019," Berry says.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Colorado youth are drinking less but don't seem to know what they're vaping

Posted By on Tue, Jan 22, 2019 at 4:00 PM

Colorado youth are drinking less alcohol, and aren't using marijuana any more than they used to before recreational weed was legalized, according to a new survey on substance use by Rise Above Colorado.

Good news? Sure. But the world of youth substance use is quite a bit more complicated, as researchers found when they analyzed more than 600 survey responses from kids ages 12 to 17.

You can read the full study below, or check out these highlights.

1. Most 12- to 17-year-olds who vape say they don't vape nicotine.

While Rise Above Colorado, a drug abuse prevention organization, has conducted similar surveys in the past, this was the first year it asked youth about their tobacco use. Colorado has a higher rate of teen vaping than any other state, according to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Youth who responded to Rise Above Colorado's survey reported lower rates of tobacco use than the CDC report showed, but that could be due to the slightly younger age demographic. Seven percent said they used a vape pen or e-cigarette, while 2 percent smoked cigarettes (the CDC report showed that 26.2 percent of Colorado high schoolers vaped, while 7 percent smoked cigarettes).

  • Rise Above Colorado
But interestingly, the survey results suggest that some youth don't understand vape pens contain nicotine. Most (78 percent) said they vaped with nicotine-free flavoring, but almost all vape products sold in convenience stores contain nicotine, and Juul — which has the largest share of the e-cigarette market — does not sell any nicotine-free products.

Youth who smoked cigarettes or vaped were 10 times as likely to misuse prescription drugs, five times as likely to use marijuana and more than twice as likely to drink alcohol.

2. While marijuana use has remained steady and alcohol use has decreased, attitudes about these substances are changing.

In 2018, 37 percent of youth surveyed by Rise Above Colorado said they had drunk alcohol. That's a statistically significant decrease from 2016 levels (46 percent), bringing alcohol use to about the same level as in 2013, when 33 percent of youth responded affirmatively.

Marijuana use has remained stable since 2013. This year, 17 percent of young people said they'd tried it, compared with 15 percent in 2016 and 16 percent in 2013 — before the passage of Amendment 64.

However, Rise Above Colorado warns that changing perceptions about weed and alcohol could make some youth more vulnerable. This year, only about half of 12- to 17-year-olds said drinking once or twice posed a "moderate" risk or "great" risk, compared with 66 percent in 2016. For marijuana, the decrease in risk perception was even greater: 61 percent of youth felt trying weed once or twice was risky, a drop from 73 percent two years earlier. And while 86 percent of youth said they thought using marijuana regularly was risky in 2016, just 79 percent said that last year.

"A lower perception of risk is of concern because it can make youth more likely to use substances while a higher perception of risk can deter future use," reads a statement from Rise Above Colorado about the survey.

3. Youth are more likely to think misusing prescription drugs is dangerous.

  • Rise Above Colorado
Just 4 percent of youth used prescription painkillers and/or stimulants to get high in 2018. While that's an increase from 2 percent in 2013, by one measure — risk perception — the outlook looks promising. Ten percent more young people (88 percent versus 78 percent in 2016) said they thought limited misuse of prescription drugs posed a "great" or "moderate" risk. Almost all youth (94 percent) thought regular use was risky, compared with 89 percent two years earlier.

Risk perception may be linked to family discussions about stimulants and painkillers. Slightly more than half of teens said they'd talked with their parents about the drugs, up from 36 percent in 2016.

4. Substance use continues to correlate with attitudes about school, mental health and safety.

Survey gatherers also asked youth to rate their levels of agreement with a set of "risk factor" statements — such as "I am confident that if I experimented with drugs, I could stop whenever I wanted" — and "protective factor" statements, like "Getting good grades is important to me."

For alcohol, the risk factor that had the strongest correlation with alcohol use was "My parents would be fine with me drinking beer once in a while." For weed and other drugs, it was "Experimenting with drugs is just part of being a teenager — it's not that big a deal."

For alcohol and marijuana, the protective factor "The schoolwork I am assigned is often meaningful and important to me" was linked most strongly to less substance use. Worryingly, statistically fewer youth (69 percent, compared with 75 percent in 2016) responded affirmatively to this statement.

When asked how many mentally difficult days they'd experienced in the past month (including "anxiety, stress, depression and problems with emotions") youth responded about the same as they did in 2016, with about 22 percent saying they had one or two hard days, 19 percent with three to five hard days, and 25 percent with six or more. Those in the latter category were more likely to have tried marijuana, alcohol and prescription painkillers.

  • Rise Above Colorado

Many students also overestimated classmates' substance use, which Rise Above Colorado warns can be dangerous.

"The overestimation of prevalence among peers can lead to increased use, while closing the gap between perceived and reported use has been proven to decrease substance use over time," its statement reads.

Read the full study:

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Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Crossroads detox facility to shut down temporarily

Posted By on Tue, Jan 15, 2019 at 9:21 PM


Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting

The county's detox program, which monitors intoxicated people, allowing them to safely sober up, has had a wild ride over the past decade. Now, it's about to go offline (again), which will lead to overflowing emergency rooms.

Problems with detox date to 2009, when local mental health care provider AspenPointe abruptly shut down their detox program, slamming hospital ERs. Then-El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa swooped in to help, replacing detox (often referred to informally as "the drunk tank") with a county program.

Maketa built a $1.76 million facility next to the county jail to house about 40 people who needed to sober up. The program — which was subsequently managed by various branches of county government — was funded money from local hospitals and the state. Then, in late 2017 detox management was handed over to Crossroads' Turning Points, Inc., a Pueblo-based nonprofit. The county said the move would allow for more extensive detox services.

Another benefit: Crossroads planned to move to a new location, freeing up the county facility to potentially help alleviate overcrowding at the jail. Sheriff spokesperson Jackie Kirby says the old detox facility could be used for “lower-classification inmates who aren’t a high risk.” But as of Jan. 15, officials hadn’t finalized plans.

The facility was supposed to be available to the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office at the end of June, when Crossroads was expected to have finished renovating its new building at Interstate 25 and B Street. When Crossroads repeatedly ran into construction issues and administrative delays, the Board of County Commissioners voted to extend the deadline to Sept. 30, then Dec. 31, and finally Jan. 15.

Now, according to Leroy Lucero, Crossroads’ president and CEO, the organization has encountered additional issues that won’t allow it to begin operating in the new facility until early February. But the county didn’t offer another extension — so detox patients will have to go elsewhere for now.

“There will be a gap in services,” Lucero told the Independent Jan. 9.

Lucero says Crossroads notified UCHealth Memorial Hospital and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services that it couldn’t accept detox patients after Jan. 15. He expects most patients to end up at those hospitals’ emergency rooms or other community facilities, and El Paso County patients may be transported to Crossroads’ Pueblo facility on an “emergency, case-by-case basis.”
Sharon Cerrone, clinical nurse manager of emergency departments at Penrose Hospital and St. Francis Medical Center, says she was informed of the development on Jan. 9, and was preparing to call in extra nurses to deal with an expected influx of detox patients.

Crossroads did not tell Cerrone when it planned to resume operations in the new building, she says, just “that they’re having some complications with the renovation and they’ll let us know.”

“Once we increase our nursing staff, I think we’ll be fine,” Cerrone says.

UCHealth, on the other hand, expressed displeasure with the delay.

“Many of these patients do not require the high level of medical care provided in our Emergency Departments, but will be brought to us as the only other place to turn, placing additional strain on critical resources,” Mark Mayes, associate chief nursing officer for UCHealth Memorial Hospital, said in an emailed statement.

Local hospitals formerly shouldered more of the detox program’s costs (about a third of the $2 million budget in 2015), but Lucero says they now provide only a small fraction of funding. The program currently costs about $1 million, Lucero says. Most of that is covered by $792,000 in state detox funds.

Penrose-St. Francis told the Indy that it made monthly payments to the detox program, but could not disclose the current amount. UCHealth says it no longer provides funding for detox at all.

“We haven’t gotten enough financial support from the hospitals,” Lucero says. “... We’re hoping that by being able to have our own permanent location along with more beds, that maybe the hospitals will step up their financial support of these kind of services, because we take a lot of patients from the hospitals.”
Detox offered a place — other than the ER — for people to sober up. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Detox offered a place — other than the ER — for people to sober up.
The new facility will have 20 beds initially, Lucero says — the same number Crossroads operated before Jan. 15 — and will add another 15 beds soon after. The goal, he says, is to eventually get back to 40 beds, the county’s former total.

Julie Krow, the executive director of El Paso County’s Department of Human Services, which ran detox for a while, called Crossroads “a very good partner” despite the delays.

Transferring management of the detox facility to Crossroads was beneficial in part, she says, because it can bill Medicaid for services, which the county could not. Crossroads also has an outpatient facility in Colorado Springs and several residential treatment programs in Pueblo, allowing it to refer patients elsewhere after a short-term stay at the detox facility.

“As a longer-term strategy, having detox with a private provider that has that full continuum of care is much better for the citizens of El Paso County,” Krow says.
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Monday, January 14, 2019

El Paso County needs SNAP paperwork early due to shutdown

Posted By on Mon, Jan 14, 2019 at 12:15 PM

Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado will hold a food distribution event Jan. 18. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Care and Share Food Bank of Southern Colorado will hold a food distribution event Jan. 18.

Due to a federal government directive, state and local agencies around the country are sounding an urgent message to those in need of food benefits: Get your paperwork in before funding runs out.

Those in El Paso County whose food assistance cases are due for redetermination must submit documents by 3 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15, in order to be eligible for February benefits, according to a Jan. 11 statement from the county's Department of Human Services titled "Urgent Update to Food Assistance Program in Government Shutdown."

Normally that paperwork wouldn't be due until February, says El Paso County DHS spokesperson Kristina Iodice. But the federal government shutdown has left agencies around the country scrambling to let SNAP recipients know about deadline changes.

This shutdown, which has left nine federal departments and dozens of agencies without funding, and hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or working without pay (including thousands in Colorado), is the longest in history. It began Dec. 21 when a stopgap funding measure expired, and President Donald Trump refused to sign new legislation to fund the government that did not include $5 billion for a border wall — a demand that Democrats have firmly opposed.

As of the morning of Jan. 14, there were about 2,000 Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipient households in El Paso County that needed to submit redetermination paperwork, Iodice says. The documents may be submitted online at, by fax at 719-444-5139 or 719-444-8353, or in person at El Paso County DHS locations.

El Paso County DHS' main location at 1675 Garden of the Gods Road will stay open until 8.p.m. — three hours later than usual — on Jan. 14 to accommodate an increased demand for services.

SNAP funds for February will be distributed by Jan. 20, weeks earlier than normal, to those who have complete files. However, the statement notes that the county "cannot guarantee assistance" even if documents are received by the appropriate deadlines.

"At this time, there is no information available about March food assistance," the statement continues.

The directive to distribute funds early came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which announced Jan. 8 that it would utilize a provision in the last stopgap funding measure allowing certain payments within 30 days of the measure's Dec. 21 expiration date. It expects February SNAP benefits to cost around $4.8 billion.

The USDA also announced it will continue funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) through February, using some unspent funding from prior years.

Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado hoped to address another need created by the government shutdown — food for federal workers who haven't received pay since December. The food bank will host a free food distribution Jan. 18 from 3 to 6 p.m. at its Colorado Springs facility, located near the intersection of Powers Boulevard and Constitution Avenue, at 2506 Preamble Point.

"Please help us spread the word to families and individuals affected by the government shutdown, or anyone who is in need," Care and Share posted on Facebook. "It is drive-thru style. Volunteers and staff will load fresh produce, frozen and staple food items into vehicles. Everyone is welcome and will receive food!"

Lynne Telford, the southern Colorado food bank’s president and CEO, says Care and Share is looking at options to address an anticipated need from federal workers and SNAP recipients who didn’t turn in paperwork on time.

That could include using reserve funds to buy food, she says, “but it’s important that we maintain enough reserves for our ongoing operations.”

“We really are hoping that the community will once again rise when we have a community emergency, much like they did for Waldo Canyon Fire or Black Forest Fire,” Telford adds. “The community made sure we were able to take care of the people who were impacted.”

Care and Share is asking the community for financial donations in particular, says Joanna Wise, the food bank’s marketing and communications director.

“We’re always in need of food donations year-round, but when it comes to something that we have to react to quickly, monetary donations are more effective for us,” Wise says. “It saves us a lot of time, because with food donations we have to inspect it and sort it and repack it. When we purchase it, we’re able to eliminate that step so we can get it to our partners a lot faster.”
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Friday, January 11, 2019

Independence Center to host watch party for Disability Integration Act

Posted By on Fri, Jan 11, 2019 at 12:33 PM

People with disabilities who need longterm services are often forced to leave their homes for assisted living facilities because Medicaid won't pay for at-home care. Disability rights activists say that legislators in Congress can change that by passing the Disability Integration Act, set to be introduced in both the House and Senate on Jan. 15.

Disability rights supporters will be watching across the country — including at the Independence Center, a local nonprofit for people with disabilities.

The bill, introduced last spring in the Senate by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, and in the House by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin, would require states, local governments and insurance providers to provide community-based services for people with disabilities as an alternative to institutionalization.

States and local governments would be required to work with housing authorities to ensure sufficient quantities of affordable, accessible, integrated housing where people can receive services while remaining in the community.

The list of Senate cosponsors includes Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner. Gardner, the latest cosponsor to sign on, was the only Republican to do so as of Jan. 8.

It's possible that pressure from disability rights organization ADAPT, the legislation's main backer, led to his decision. ADAPT supporters were arrested multiple times in Gardner's offices where they were pressuring him to cosponsor the legislation, according to a statement from the organization. And in November, the statement says, ADAPT had an airplane bearing the message “GARDNER SUPPORT S910 DIA FREE OUR PEOPLE!” fly around Gardner's Washington, D.C., office building. That evening, ADAPT projected the same message "shining like a bat-signal" on the front of the building. Gardner added his name a month later.

Last legislative session, all of Colorado's House representatives also signed on as cosponsors.

Neither the House nor Senate bill made it out of committee last session, but advocates are hopeful that this year, things will be different.

“The Disability Integration Act (DIA) is the next step in building a fulfilling and sustainable world for persons with disabilities," Becca Michael, advocacy manager at the Independence Center, said in an emailed statement. "...The Independence Center is excited about this legislation, as our mission is to work with people with disabilities, their families, and the community, to create independence so all may thrive."

The Independence Center, located at 729 S. Tejon St. will host a watch party Jan. 15 from 1 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. to livestream the bill's introduction and discussion. The event is open to the public, and snacks will be provided.

"The Independence Center is hosting this watch party, not only because it is important for our consumers and employees, but because it is gaining momentum, and we want to make sure it makes it over the finish line," Michael said. "For now, we want to raise awareness of the legislation, and celebrate the effort!”

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Friday, January 4, 2019

Man who died days after finally getting off the streets is remembered

Posted By on Fri, Jan 4, 2019 at 5:18 PM

Paul Gabrielson in his new apartment. - COURTESY OF RICHARD JOHNSON
  • Courtesy of Richard Johnson
  • Paul Gabrielson in his new apartment.

The day Paul Gabrielson moved into his own apartment, the first address to his name in years, he was glowing.

Within a few hours, the 50-year-old had put on music and decorated the space with a few spare belongings, recalls Richard Johnson, a relative who helped Gabrielson move.

"He was like a little kid," Johnson says. "He was so excited about this brand new home, his new start on life."

But two days after Gabrielson — who had been chronically homeless since at least 2013, couchsurfing and frequenting the Springs Rescue Mission when he wasn't camping outside — gained the keys to his own apartment, tragedy struck.

While the coroner's report isn't finalized, word is that an undiagnosed condition, possibly related to Gabrielson's alcoholism, took his life.

Gabrielson was a frequent patron at Westside Cares, a nonprofit that provides food and services for people experiencing homelessness. At a Dec. 20 memorial service for Gabrielson, the nonprofit's building was packed with those who knew and loved him: family members, friends who had lived with him on the streets, volunteers who'd felt appreciated by his kindness, and others who knew him in passing but felt the impact of his loving personality.

"We’ve had a lot of memorial services, but none as big as this," one volunteer remarked to Gabrielson's sister in passing.

It's not surprising, given the impression Gabrielson clearly left on the homeless outreach community. He received services, but gave what he could himself, too — like the Broncos cap he gave to Pastor Eric Sandras, who led the memorial service, and a beanie sported by Kristy Milligan, CEO of Westside Cares, as she delivered opening remarks. Gabrielson often helped serve meals at Sandras' The Sanctuary Church, Sandras says. And those he met on the streets recalled his habit of lending a helping hand when he could.

"Paul had a really big heart and he inspired a lot of people, whether to become Christian or be thankful for what you have," says Janeice Queen, Gabrielson's sister. "... He didn’t have a lot, but he did have a big heart, and we’re going to miss him."

At Westside Cares, Gabrielson took the VI-SPDAT housing assessment, which looks at a variety of factors to determine level of vulnerability and potential for placement in permanent supportive housing. After a long process involving heaps of paperwork and doctor's appointments, he eventually was selected for an opening in one of Homeward Pikes Peak's permanent supportive housing units — like "striking gold in this town," says Deb Mitguard, Westside Cares' director of volunteer engagement.

"We saw him really working hard this last year to create a different kind of life for himself," Mitguard says, "and of course it took him making up his mind about that, but it also took several people walking beside him and helping him just kind of jump through all of the hoops that had to be jumped through to get from here to there."

Gabrielson was enrolled at Pikes Peak Community College from 2010 to 2014, according to a PPCC spokesperson, but never got a degree. Johnson says he had planned to complete the remaining courses needed for an associate's degree and transfer the credits to Colorado State University at Pueblo in the summer or fall.

  • Courtesy of Westside Cares
He loved dancing and martial arts, Queen says, and had a job interview scheduled the last time she spoke with him.

"I don’t understand why it takes some people and doesn’t take others, the alcohol," she says. 

Through everything — decades of alcoholism, the deaths of two of his friends last year, and a recent beating that landed him in the hospital — friends, family and acquaintances agree that Gabrielson put others before himself, sometimes to his own detriment. And contrary to one stereotype of chronically homeless people, it was clear he didn't choose the lifestyle he led. That much is evidenced by his 2017 interview with Milligan for a video series promoting Westside Cares.

"I’m a wuss on the streets. I hate the cold," Gabrielson says. "I don’t want to be out there for anything. I just sustained some medical issues and a [traumatic brain injury] and I just had some problems that unfortunately I found myself on the streets, and you know, it can happen to anybody... Sometimes I get in dire straits. I just, I’ve gone through this before and I’ve learned how to survive and take care of myself and what have you, but not everybody knows how to do that. And I’m just trying to do my part to do whatever I can to help anybody that needs the help utilize the resources that are available."

Johnson hopes Gabrielson's journey out of homelessness will inspire other patrons of Westside Cares, even if it did end in tragedy.

"Folks working here can say, 'Remember Paul? How he made changes in his life? There's hope.'"

Francie Crary, a volunteer who helped Gabrielson with his housing assessment, says she remembers a visible change in his appearance the last time she saw him at Westside Cares. It was a few days before he would receive the keys to his apartment.

"He was floating," Crary says. "I mean, he was so full of light anyway, but he was floating. He was absolutely floating."

Milligan takes comfort in one outtake from the interview that she still recalls.

I asked him what gave him hope, and he said God gave him hope," Milligan says. "Which makes me feel better about losing him... He believed that he was wrapped up in God’s arms, and that’s what I would wish for someone at their last moment."

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

5 mental health tips for the holidays

Posted By on Thu, Dec 20, 2018 at 5:43 PM

Contrary to one myth that's been perpetuated in mainstream media, suicides don't increase around the holidays. In fact, November and December have the lowest monthly average suicide rates, according to the Annenberg Public Policy Center.

But the holidays can come with unique mental health challenges.

"I think it’s reconnecting with family members when there’s unresolved issues," says Lori Jarvis-Steinwert, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Colorado Springs. "I think it’s just that whole notion of going home, wherever home is. And I think it’s also, we’ve created expectations around the holidays as this joyous time of year. And so if your life isn’t particularly joyous, for whatever reason...things that you might be coping with OK on a day-to-day basis, it’s just everything’s in stark relief during the holidays."

The Indy asked locally based mental health advocates and providers for advice on maintaining mental health this holiday season, and recommendations on where to get help. Here's what they had to say:

1. Try not to isolate yourself. It helps to spend time with healthy, supportive people — who may or may not be your relatives — during the holidays, says Charlton Clarke, director of health care services at AspenPointe. If you can't or don't want to be around others, Jarvis-Steinwert suggests scheduling time to do something you enjoy, like going to the movies.

2. Now's not the time to take a break from therapy, even if it seems like a good idea, Clarke says. "This is a time when you should really continue to engage with therapy, if that’s what you’re doing, or if people have never thought about therapy and they’re feeling depressed and the holidays are stirring that up, this is the perfect time to actually begin to engage with mental health services." (See a list of resources below.)

3. If your therapist will be out of town, make a backup plan, says Brenna Sturgeon, a licensed professional counselor and level 2 certified addiction counselor at Peak Vista Community Health Centers. That could include checking whether they have someone else on call you can reach, or asking them to recommend other mental health resources.

4. Know the numbers. Call 1-844-493-8255 or text "TALK" to 38255 to connect with Colorado Crisis Services' trained counselors for free, 24/7. TESSA of Colorado Springs has a 24-hour hotline for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and their children: 719-633-3819.

5.  In crisis? Visit a walk-in center. AspenPointe operates two walk-in crisis centers for Colorado Crisis Services. One, at 115 S. Parkside Drive, is open 24/7. (Locations and hours below.) "That’s probably the best first step, is if someone feels like they’re in crisis and they don’t know what to do, to go to one of those places to try to start the process," Clarke says.

Resources around town (in alphabetical order):

AspenPointe offers counseling, therapy, medication services and substance use treatment at locations around Colorado Springs. Call (719) 572-6100 for more information.

AspenPointe walk-in crisis centers:

115 S. Parkside Dr. (Open 24/7)

6071 E. Woodmen Road, Suite 135 (Open 7 a.m.-11 a.m., 7 days a week)

Brain and Body Integration, located at 1115 Elkton Dr. #300, offers counseling, biofeedback treatment and medication management. Call (719) 357-6471 for more information.

Insight Services, located at 212 E. Monument St., offers individual and group therapy (including yoga therapy) and substance use treatment on a sliding fee schedule. Call 719-447-0370 for more information.

NAMI Colorado Springs, located at 510 E. Willamette Ave., offers free support groups and classes for those experiencing mental illness and their loved ones. Call (719) 473-8477 for more information.

NAMI Colorado Springs support groups (do not meet Dec. 24-25 or Dec. 31-Jan. 1):

The non-faith-based Connection Support Group meets Tuesdays from 7-8:30 p.m. on the second floor of First United Methodist Church, 420 N. Nevada Ave. A group for family members of those living with mental illness meets across the hall.

Thrive Connection Support Group, a faith-based group, meets on second and fourth Mondays from 6:30-8 p.m. at Woodmen Valley Chapel, 290 E. Woodmen Road, Room 115. A faith-based support group for family members meets in Room 114.

Peak Vista Community Health Centers offers counseling, therapy, psychological exams and psychiatric support at locations around Colorado Springs. Call 719-632-5700 for more information.

Pikes Peak Hospice and Palliative Care, located at 2550 Tenderfoot Hill Street, offers grief support groups for both adults and children, and individual grief counseling for individuals. Call 719-633-3400 anytime for more information or to speak to a grief counselor.

TESSA of Colorado Springs, located at 435 Gold Pass Heights, provides emergency shelter, food, case management, counseling and victim advocacy for victims of domestic violence or sexual assault and their children. Call 719-633-1462 for more information or 719-633-3819 for the 24-hour SafeLine.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Texas ruling on Affordable Care Act won't affect your coverage, officials say

Posted By on Tue, Dec 18, 2018 at 2:02 PM

According to a federal judge in Texas, the Affordable Care Act should go.

U.S. District Judge Reed O'Connor of Fort Worth delivered a victory to conservatives Dec. 14, ruling that the individual mandate was unconstitutional, and that the remaining provisions of the Affordable Care Act were "inseverable" and therefore "invalid." The ruling ended (for now) a months-long court battle between a group of Republican-led states who had sued the United States and a group of intervening Democrat-led states.

Colorado wasn't involved in the lawsuit. But state officials want residents to know that this decision won't affect them anytime soon.

"This decision will now be part of a long, drawn-out legal process, as it will be appealed and likely work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court," reads a statement from the Colorado Division of Insurance. "And the Trump administration is assuring the country that the ACA will remain in force during the appeals process."

(Those assurances came separately from the president's tweet.)

State officials also sought to reassure Coloradans with pre-existing conditions.

“I said it in June when this case first bubbled up, and I’ll say it again: Guaranteed health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is enshrined in Colorado law,”  interim Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway is quoted in the statement. “The Division of Insurance will continue to enforce Colorado law and maintain this important protection for our citizens."

Open enrollment for people who buy individual health insurance plans ends Jan. 15. Visit Connect for Health Colorado for more information and to enroll.

While many Republicans, including Colorado's Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Doug Lamborn, remained silent on the ruling, Democrats were quick to make their disapproval known. Sen. Michael Bennet issued the following statement Dec. 15:

“For years, Republicans have tried to dismantle the Affordable Care Act. After trying and failing over 70 times to repeal the bill without offering a replacement, Republicans added a provision to last year's disastrous tax bill to sabotage the individual mandate, providing the argument used in the Texas court's ruling.

“The ACA is not perfect, but it has provided health care coverage to millions of Coloradans and Americans with preexisting conditions and coverage for essential health benefits. Republicans should abandon their efforts to attack the ACA and instead work with Democrats to fix its flaws, so that we can provide quality, affordable health care coverage to every American.”

And the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, a nonpartisan membership-based advocacy organization, issued a forceful rebuke.

“This unprecedented attack and irresponsible Republican lawsuit is the biggest threat for consumers in the Trump Administration’s relentless efforts to sabotage the ACA,” Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement, is quoted in the organization's statement. “This court case could strip more than 600,000 Coloradans of the health coverage they need, throw the insurance market into chaos, and leave our state budget in crisis."
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