Thursday, January 2, 2020

"Marijuana is Not Harmless," Weld County says

Posted By on Thu, Jan 2, 2020 at 9:04 AM

  • Weld County Health Department
While Colorado may have earned a national reputation as a pot-embracing state, not everyone here is on board with that — and Weld County, for one, has chosen to broadcast its anti-weed message from highway billboards.

On Dec. 26, the Weld County Health Department announced a new campaign titled "Marijuana is Not Harmless" featuring social media posts and billboards advertising that "A Coloradan is killed every 3 days in a marijuana-related traffic crash" and "users report lower satisfaction of life and poorer mental and physical health." But some people are questioning the accuracy of the messaging.

Marijuana Industry Group, a marijuana trade group in Colorado, released a statement Dec. 27 saying it was "disappointed by some of the facts being used to promote" the campaign.

As sources for the campaign material, Weld County cites a webpage for the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a research institute run by the federal government, and a report from the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (RMHIDTA), a federally funded task force that tracks the impact of marijuana legalization in Colorado.

The formerly mentioned webpage includes this blurb that's presumably a source for the billboard about lower satisfaction and poorer health:

Compared to those who don't use marijuana, those who frequently use large amounts report the following:

• lower life satisfaction
• poorer mental health
• poorer physical health
• more relationship problems

The National Institute on Drug Abuse doesn't provide a citation for this statement on the webpage Weld County cites, but it's probably referring to a 2008 study in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the message that one "Coloradan is killed every three days in a marijuana-related traffic incident" appears to come from the RMHIDTA report, which says that in 2018, there were 115 "marijuana-related" traffic fatalities in the state, where the driver tested positive for marijuana.

It's much more difficult, though, to pinpoint whether a driver is high than whether they are drunk. THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana, can show up in a blood test days or weeks after someone ingests the substance.

In its report, RMHIDTA states out of the 109 drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for marijuana, just 25 percent tested positive for only marijuana (i.e., they hadn't consumed alcohol or other substances as well). And only about a third of the 109 drivers had levels of THC above five nanograms per milliliter of blood, the "permissible inference" level above which a driver can get a DUI.

"Quite frankly, there are a lot of facts, data and other information available from government agencies like the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Colorado Department of Public Safety that are not consistent with the picture painted by the data being used in this educational campaign," Ron Kammerzell, interim executive director of Marijuana Industry Group, said in the group's statement.

The group recommended referencing Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment data and the Colorado Department of Transportation's Colorado Task Force on Drunk and Impaired Driving for reliable information. It also linked to CDPHE's Healthy Kids Colorado Survey and a report on the impact of marijuana legalization from the Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.

In its statement announcing the campaign, Weld County notes Colorado has "over 520 recreational marijuana dispensaries, which is more than twice the number of statewide Starbucks."

“We acknowledge Colorado voters legalized recreational marijuana,” Dr. Mark E. Wallace executive director of the Weld County Health Department, said in the statement announcing the campaign. “However, the general public, and especially youth, need to understand that marijuana use is not harmless. There are consequences to driving impaired and using frequent amounts of marijuana.”
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Thursday, December 26, 2019

Daycare operator arrested, charged with felony

Posted By on Thu, Dec 26, 2019 at 2:23 PM

Carla Faith operated an unlicensed day care on Willamette Avenue. - AMANDA MILLER LUCIANO
  • Amanda Miller Luciano
  • Carla Faith operated an unlicensed day care on Willamette Avenue.

Carla Faith, who operated two day care facilities in downtown Colorado Springs, was arrested Dec. 23 on one class 2 misdemeanor charge of child abuse and one class 4 felony charge of attempting to influence a public servant, court records show.

The charges stemmed from a Nov. 13 welfare check at Play Mountain Place, one of Faith's daycare properties. The state Department of Human Services had asked the Colorado Springs Police Department to assist in responding to complaints that the facility was housing more children than its license allowed.

When a police officer arrived at Play Mountain Place (838 1/2 Willamette Ave.), she spent about 20 minutes attempting to contact Faith at the front door, back door and by phone, according to the police report.

Then, the officer was notified that a parent had been able to reach Faith by phone to say she "wanted to pick up her son immediately." Christina Marie Swauger, another suspect who was arrested on the same charges as Faith, met with the parent after carrying the parent's son out the back gate.

The officer then asked Swauger to meet with Faith, and Swauger escorted the officer into the cottage daycare — where no children were present.

So, the officer asked to check the main house at 838 E. Willamette Ave., which was on the same property as the daycare.

The officer noticed "a large stack of children's backpacks in a closet," but Faith "explained that she was volunteering to clean the backpacks for a soccer team" and denied that any children were in her residence.

The officer heard children's music coming from the basement, but Faith denied the house had a basement at all.

A second officer arrived on the scene and discovered a false wall and stairwell leading to the basement.

Downstairs, the officers found two adults and 26 children younger than 3 years old. They noticed "many of the children had soiled or wet diapers, were sweating, and were very thirsty upon contact."

Police found that Faith's 2019 license renewal form required that she care for no more than six children at Play Mountain Place, and no more than two children younger than 2 years old.

The arrest affidavit notes that the fire department also conducted an inspection on Dec. 5 and found multiple violations, including "issues with carbon monoxide detectors not being installed" and "emergency escape and rescue openings not being adequate" given that the basement exit was blocked by a false wall.

A third suspect in the case, Katelynne Dianna Leigh Nelson, was arrested on one charge of class 2 misdemeanor child abuse and one class 4 felony charge of unlawful possession of methamphetamine, KOAA News 5 first reported.

According to the arrest affidavit posted online by News 5, officers found a backpack in the basement daycare with payslips for Nelson as well as two baggies that tested positive for meth — which led to the possession charge.

Class 2 misdemeanor child abuse, under Colorado law, entails acting "knowingly" or "recklessly" — exceeding "criminal negligence," a class 3 misdemeanor — without causing serious injury or death to a child.

In Colorado, a class 4 felony comes with a minimum sentence of two years in prison and/or $2,000 fine. A class 2 misdemeanor charge entails a minimum three-month jail sentence, a minimum fine of $250 or both.

On Dec. 5, 29 parents and guardians of children under Faith's care filed a civil lawsuit against her and her companies, alleging negligence that led to behavioral problems, developmental delays, eating problems, infections and physical illnesses, phobias, injuries, and sleep problems.

Children suffered from "severe separation anxiety, fear of the dark, fear of sleeping alone, fear of authority, fear of strangers, fear of bugs, fear of bathing and/or bathtubs, fear of the word 'movie,' fear of conflict and fear of other daycares," according to the parents, who are represented by attorneys Jeffrey Weeks and Daniel Kay.

One of those parents, Amanda Miller Luciano, wrote a Nov. 25 analysis of the police raid on Faith's property for the Indy.

"All of us parents have been pretty anxious to see something happen, and it's nice to see that there have been arrests made," Luciano says in response to the news of Faith's arrest.

Luciano points out that Faith was also allegedly caught hiding kids from authorities in California in the late '90s.

"Hopefully, these charges will be strong enough that they can convict her, and this conviction will prevent her from ever being able to do it again somewhere else," Luciano says.
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Friday, December 13, 2019

Lower Drug Costs Now Act passes U.S. House along party lines

Posted By on Fri, Dec 13, 2019 at 11:45 AM

On Dec. 12, the U.S. House voted to pass legislation that would allow Medicare to negotiate drug costs with pharmaceutical companies.

The legislation — known as the Elijah E. Cummings Lower Drug Costs Now Act, or simply H.R. 3 — passed on a largely party-line vote. It's a priority for Congressional Democrats, who celebrated their victory in the House. In the Republican controlled-Senate, however, the bill faces an uphill battle, and President Donald Trump has threatened a veto.

So what does H.R. 3 do?

It requires the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to negotiate with drug companies to set maximum prices for certain drugs, including:

• insulin;
• at least 25 single-source, brand-name drugs "that are among the 125 drugs that account for the greatest national spending"; and
• at least 25 that are among "the 125 drugs that account for the greatest spending under the Medicare prescription drug benefit and Medicare Advantage," according to a Congressional summary.

The negotiated maximum prices would also be offered under private health insurance plans unless the insurer opts out.

Under H.R. 3, maximum prices couldn't exceed 120 percent of the drug's average price in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom — or, if that data isn't available, 85 percent of the U.S. average manufacturer price. Drug companies that fail to comply with these requirements incur civil and tax penalties.

Plus, H.R. 3 would require drug companies to issue rebates for covered drugs that cost $100 or more and for which the average manufacturer price increases faster than inflation, and it would reduce the annual out-of-pocket spending threshold.

H.R. 3 also includes provisions to add dental, vision and hearing coverage for Medicare patients.

The Congressional Budget Office and the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation estimate that H.R. 3 would increase federal spending by about $40 billion and increase revenues by about $46 billion between 2020 and 2029 — reducing the federal debt by about $5 billion over those 10 years.

But their analysis also identified a drawback: Drug companies may be less likely to develop new drugs.

"Those effects would occur because the potential global revenues for a new drug over its lifetime would decline as a result of enactment, and in some cases the prospect of lower revenues would make investments in research and development less attractive to pharmaceutical companies," the CBO noted.

In a Dec. 3 statement, the White House cited an estimate by its own staff that the bill could prevent as many as 100 drugs from entering the U.S. market. Trump is widely expected to veto the bill on the slim chance it passes the Senate.

"Heavy-handed government intervention may reduce drug prices in the short term, but these savings are not worth the long-term cost of American patients losing access to new lifesaving treatments," the White House statement argued.

Colorado's four Democratic representatives voted in favor of the bill, while its three Republicans, including Rep. Doug Lamborn of El Paso County, were opposed. Reps. Diana DeGette and Ed Perlmutter, both Democrats, signed on as cosponsors.

"People in our community cannot continue to be gouged by these historically high prices, while at the same time Big Pharma makes historically high profits," Rep. Jason Crow, another Colorado Democrat, said on a press call Dec. 6.

State Rep. Janet Buckner, a Democrat from Aurora, also noted on the press call that Colorado recently became the first state to pass a bill capping the cost of insulin.

"I'm a member of the health insurance committee, and I heard so many stories of people who were struggling with these costs of health care and prescription drugs, and they sometimes have to choose between their basic living needs and their prescription drug," Buckner said. "This is unacceptable."
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Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Independence Center announces dental offices to receive accessible equipment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last year, the Independence Center used money from the IC Fund to pay for accessible exam tables, lifts and hearing loop devices at medical practices. An online, interactive map gives locations and information for those offices with accessible equipment.
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the letter here:
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Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Corrected: ACLU sues GEO Group in immigrant's death at Aurora detention facility

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

• Samimi was not scheduled for a dental exam.

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

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

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

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

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

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated in the headline that the ACLU was suing ICE. The ACLU is in fact suing the GEO Group, and ICE was not named in the lawsuit.
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Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Cigarette, vaping taxes pass in several Colorado cities and counties

Posted By on Wed, Nov 6, 2019 at 3:35 PM

Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products. - SHUTTERSTOCK
  • Shutterstock
  • Cities and counties on the Western Slope passed new taxes on nicotine products.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed a bill allowing cities and counties to impose their own taxes on nicotine products without losing out on their share of proceeds from a state tobacco tax.

So, this fall, local governments across the state jumped at the chance to ask voters whether the government could collect new taxes, ostensibly aimed at curbing teen vaping.

Voters approved the measures by sweeping margins.

As part of their respective ballot initiatives, Crested Butte, Vail, New Castle and Glenwood Springs will impose a tax between $3 and $4 per pack of cigarettes, and a 40 percent tax on nicotine products other than cigarettes.

Crested Butte and Vail will tax $3 per pack, New Castle will tax $3.20 per pack and Glenwood Springs $4 per pack. Boulder, which has already banned flavored vaping products, approved a 40 percent tax on e-cigarette products.

Voters in Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties also approved a nicotine tax mirroring the one passed in Glenwood Springs. Those counties' teen vaping rates are among the highest in the state, according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey.

That survey showed 27 percent of Colorado teens vape, the highest statewide rate in the country.

The new taxes come on the heels of a nationwide outbreak of a mysterious vaping-related illness that has claimed the lives of 37 people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which had logged more than 1,800 total cases as of Oct. 29.

Colorado has seen 11 cases of the vaping-related illness, according to the state Department of Public Health and Environment.

Out of the 1,364 patients nationwide for which the CDC has data on age and sex:
  • 70 percent are male.
  • The median age is 24, and ages range from 13 to 75 years.
  • 79 percent of patients are under 35 years old.
States reporting 100 or more cases include California, Utah, Texas and Illinois.

The CDC reports that most people affected by the outbreak reported vaping products that contained THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. However, the CDC has not determined a cause of the illness.

Instead, the agency continues encouraging the millions of Americans who vape to stop vaping, though it has issued some new advice recently:
  • "If you are an adult using e-cigarettes, or vaping, products, to quit smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes. Adults addicted to nicotine using e-cigarettes should weigh all risks and benefits and consider utilizing FDA-approved nicotine replacement therapies."
  • "If people continue to use an e-cigarette, or vaping, product, carefully monitor yourself for symptoms and see a healthcare provider immediately if you develop symptoms like those reported in this outbreak."
The CDC urges people not to buy black market vaping products, or modify products in ways not intended by the manufacturer.
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Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Trump administration limits fee waiver eligibility for would-be citizens

Posted By on Wed, Oct 30, 2019 at 4:04 PM

  • U.S. Department of Homeland Security
  • USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.
In order to become naturalized U.S. citizens, immigrants must have been lawful permanent residents (green card-holders) for at least five years, speak English and pass a civics test.

They also must pay a $725 application fee — which since 2010 has been waived for people who receive public benefits through Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and Supplemental Security Income.

But an incoming change by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services means those who receive such benefits won't automatically be eligible for the fee waiver. Instead, fee waivers will be limited to those at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, or $25,365 per year for a two-person household. Applicants who successfully "demonstrate financial hardship" in some other way can still qualify.

Immigrant advocacy organizations threatened legal action in response to the move.

“Waivers of the $725 application fee make it possible for thousands of hard-working people to become U.S. citizens,” Anna Gallagher, executive director of Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc., said in a statement from her organization. “This change is a roadblock on the path to the American Dream."

CLINIC estimates that 40 percent of people who apply for naturalization currently receive a fee waiver.

In an Oct. 25 statement announcing the change, USCIS argues that the changes were necessary given that income and eligibility requirements for public benefits vary from state to state.

"The revised fee waiver process will improve the integrity of the program and the quality and consistency of fee waiver approvals going forward," USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli is quoted as saying.

The agency estimates that the total dollar amount of fee waivers increased by more than $23 million between 2016 and 2017, from $344.3 million to $367.9 million. Last year, though, USCIS granted $293.5 million worth of waivers. Revenue from application fees accounts for more than 95 percent of the USCIS budget, the statement notes.

Unless activists secure a court injunction to stop the change from taking place, it will go into effect Dec. 2 for anyone applying for naturalization.

Sound familiar? The federal government has recently drawn ire with two other proposals that make it harder for people to upgrade their immigration status and receive public benefits.

A USCIS rule change allowing immigration officials to deny green cards to immigrants deemed likely to use public benefits was recently blocked in federal court. Opponents said it would discourage those in need from applying for nutrition and health care assistance.

Another proposed rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture would mandate that individuals aged 18 to 59 making between 130 and 200 percent of the federal poverty level could no longer receive SNAP benefits. Parents in that income bracket could only receive SNAP benefits if they also qualify for at least $50 in other federal assistance each month.
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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Where to get flu shots in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Wed, Oct 16, 2019 at 3:57 PM

  • Shutterstock
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends you get a flu shot before the end of October, but getting vaccinated remains worthwhile late into the year.

"The question is typically, 'Will it last? If I get it early, will it last through the season?' And the answer to that is yes," says Cynthia Wacker, manager of Mission Ministry & Outreach for Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. "It really does last — keeps that immunity for up to a year — but you do need to get a flu shot every year. It's critical."

Flu shots are 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. People from these groups are prone to complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, according to the CDC.

But Wacker says the flu can affect everyone differently. For example, a 20-something with a poor diet might experience worse symptoms than a healthy, active senior.

Regardless of your own risk factors, don't just get a flu shot for yourself, Wacker says.

"It's important for your family," she points out. "If you're a grandparent, it's important that you are not going to get the flu so that your children don't get it, your grandchildren don't get it, the people in your church. All the people that you're around."

El Paso County Public Health recorded 458 influenza-related hospitalizations last winter. If that doesn't scare you, at least take pity on your neighbors, relatives and coworkers, and go get a dang shot.

Here's how...

Visit the HealthMap Vaccine Finder for a list of clinic locations. Your insurance should cover a flu shot without charging a copay, but may restrict the locations or health care providers — so check with your insurance provider if you're worried about that.

Most pharmacies charge around $20 to $45 per flu shot for people paying out of pocket.

Penrose-St. Francis Faith Community Nurses will also provide free flu shots for uninsured and underinsured adults, and children over 4 years old, at one-day clinics in various locations around the city.

The nurses have a limited number of free vaccines available, Wacker says, so they ask that if you do have insurance and can get a free shot elsewhere, to please do so.

Their remaining schedule for 2019 includes the following dates:

Wednesday, Oct. 16 from 10 a.m. to noon at Family Connections, 917 E. Moreno Ave.
Thursday, Oct. 17 from noon to 2 p.m. at Tri-Lakes Cares, 235 Jefferson St., Monument
Saturday, Oct. 19 from 5 to 7 p.m., and
Sunday, Oct. 20 from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, 2715 E. Pikes Peak Ave.
Wednesday, Oct. 23 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Ecumenical Social Ministries, 201 N. Weber St.
Tuesday, Oct. 29 from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Westside Cares, 2808 Colorado Ave.
Wednesday, Oct. 30 from 1 to 3 p.m. at Grace Be Unto You Outreach Church, 3195 Airport Road
Tuesday, Nov. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Marian House, 14 W. Bijou St.
Wednesday, Nov. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Springs Rescue Mission, Thanksgiving, City Auditorium, 221 E. Kiowa St.
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Friday, October 11, 2019

Springs Rescue Mission shelters record number of homeless

Posted By on Fri, Oct 11, 2019 at 11:56 AM

Springs Rescue Mission sheltered a record number of guests Oct. 10. - THOMAS VOSS
  • Thomas Voss
  • Springs Rescue Mission sheltered a record number of guests Oct. 10.
On Oct. 10, Colorado Springs experienced an early cold snap with nearly an inch and a half of snow accumulation.

The National Weather Service in Pueblo recorded a low temperature of 14 degrees, beating the previous record of 17 degrees, set in 1946.

It was also a record-breaking day for Springs Rescue Mission, Colorado Springs' largest homeless shelter. The facility housed approximately 475 people experiencing homelessness Oct. 10 — shattering the shelter's previous record of 447, set in May, according to Chief Development Officer Travis Williams.

Daily shelter bed counts recorded by Colorado Springs homeless shelters show that Springs Rescue Mission had zero available beds, compared with more than 100 left unoccupied the previous night.

Williams attributes the increase to plunging temperatures that may have caught some people (who might have expected to sleep outside or in vehicles) by surprise. The previous day, Oct. 9, the Weather Service recorded 80-degree temperatures during the afternoon, which dropped to 32 degrees by 11:59 p.m.

While Springs Rescue Mission had to bring in mats to accommodate some of the shelter guests, Williams says that there's no reason the shelter couldn't find room for more people if needed.

He points out that if Greenway Flats, a permanent supportive housing facility, and Springs Rescue Mission's addiction recovery program are included in the totals, the nonprofit kept around 585 people out of the cold that night.

At the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery, zero men's beds and one women's bed was left open Oct. 10 — meaning around 200 beds were occupied. The Salvation Army had 22 family beds available, according to the shelter bed count.

The Place (formerly Urban Peak), a 20-bed shelter for youths ages 15 through 20, had three available beds. Family Promise, a family shelter, had zero beds open.

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Friday, October 4, 2019

CDC logs 275 more cases of vaping-related illness

Posted By on Fri, Oct 4, 2019 at 3:19 PM

  • Amani A /
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Oct. 4 reported 275 more cases of "lung injury associated with e-cigarette use," bringing the total number nationwide to 1,080 cases.

It also announced six more deaths tied to the vaping-related health condition, now totaling 18.

Colorado added one case that incurred hospitalization, bringing the state's total number of cases to nine, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. There have been no deaths tied to the lung injury outbreak in the state.

The CDC is now reporting that most people who suffered from the illness reported vaping THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.

More information from the CDC:

• Out of the patients who died, the median age was 49.5. Deceased patients ranged in age from 27-71 years old.

• Out of the 889 patients for which the CDC has data on age and sex:
     - 70 percent are male.
     - The median age is 23. Patients range in age from 13-75 years old.
     - 81 percent are younger than 35.

• Out of the 578 patients for which the CDC has information on the substances vaped in the three months before they fell ill:
     - About 78 percent reported vaping THC. Thirty-seven percent reported vaping THC only.
     - About 58 percent reported vaping nicotine. Seventeen percent reported vaping nicotine only.

States reporting 50 or more cases include California, Utah, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana.

Despite months of investigation, the CDC says it still has not figured out what exactly is causing the illness, and continues encouraging all to "consider not vaping."
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Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Firefighters have "unacceptably" high levels of PFAS in blood, new report says

Posted By on Wed, Oct 2, 2019 at 1:26 PM

A state law banning PFAS-based foam doesn't apply to the military. - U.S. AIR FORCE/EDDIE GREEN
  • A state law banning PFAS-based foam doesn't apply to the military.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, a group of toxic chemicals found in firefighting foam, have polluted water supplies near 206 military installations where the foam was used, according to a map created by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group and researchers at Northeastern University.

Last year, a study showed that people who lived near one such site, Peterson Air Force Base, had abnormally high levels of PFAS — often called "forever chemicals" — in their blood years after water districts changed sources or filtration methods to make their water safe to drink.

Recent research now suggests PFAS also present a danger to firefighters.

According to a new scientific review by IPEN, a global nonprofit network of public interest groups, firefighters who've used PFAS-based foam have "unacceptably elevated blood levels" of two PFAS chemicals, perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS)  and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS).

Frighteningly, it's not just veteran firefighters who have elevated blood levels of PFOS and PFHxS.

"Elevated blood levels are found not just in longserving personnel who may have been exposed to legacy PFOS-containing [aqueous film forming foams, or AFFFs], but also in much younger firefighters and recruits who have never used or been trained with these foams," the report says. That could be equipment and training areas contaminated long ago by the "forever chemicals."

Most research showing PFAS has contributed to negative health effects in humans has focused on perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA (linked to cancer) and PFOS (linked to thyroid hormone effects).

Likewise, the Environmental Protection Agency has set a lifetime health advisory, or LHA, for PFOA and PFOS only, and has taken preliminary steps toward setting a legally enforceable maximum contaminant level, or MCL, for these two chemicals.

But the PFAS group contains hundreds of toxic chemicals. For many of these chemicals, little research has been done into the health effects they pose and their environmental pervasiveness.

IPEN's review goes so far as to say that PFHxS, a newer chemical found in PFAS-based firefighting foam, "is more bio-accumulative and hazardous in humans than PFOS.”

Researchers from the Colorado School of Public Health and Colorado School of Mines found last year that El Paso County residents who lived near Peterson Air Force Base for at least three years before 2015 (and were therefore exposed to contamination from firefighting foam discharges) had blood levels of PFHxS 10 times higher than the general U.S. population. They showed levels of PFOS that were twice as high as normal.

IPEN's report explains that when manufacturing company 3M phased out use of PFOS-based products, including firefighting foam and ScotchGard fabric and leather treatments, the PFAS chemicals perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) and PFHxS replaced legacy PFOS in products such as stain repellents, surfactants and firefighting foams.

The “Firefighter Cancer Registry Act of 2018,” signed into law last year by President Donald Trump, "establishes and maintains a voluntary registry of firefighters to collect data on cancer incidence," the report notes. This registry could potentially aid research into the health effects of long-term PFAS exposure.

“Our firefighters and first responders are already asked to put themselves in harm’s way virtually every day,” Environmental Working Group Senior Scientist David Andrews said in response to the IPEN review. “Forcing them to use firefighting foams containing dangerous chemicals when there are alternatives that work puts their long-term health at unacceptable risk.”

Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act — a bill to fund the military through 2020 — end the use of PFAS-based foams by 2023, an EWG statement notes. Manufacturers have developed some types of foams that don't contain PFAS that would presumably replace these foams.

But the military has so far resisted to switching to such "non-fluorinated" foam formulas. While the Department of Defense has completely phased out its original foam formula and replaced it with a new, supposedly safer formula using different PFAS. The Air Force's website explains that, so far, no non-fluorinated foam formula meets "performance criteria necessary to safeguard our Airmen from real time fire emergency responses."

PFAS-containing foams "are the most effective foams currently available to fight flammable liquid fires in military, industrial, aviation and municipal arenas," it continues. Chemical manufacturers also argue that the newer versions shouldn't be banned outright.

While Colorado lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year banning all PFAS-based foams (as have lawmakers in a few other states), the state bans don't apply to the U.S. military or the Federal Aviation Administration, which requires the foam's use at airports.
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Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Health Access Survey: Coverage rates steady, but other stats look troubling

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2019 at 2:33 PM

Statewide, 30.6 percent of people had a surprise medical bill in the last year. - VOLODYMYR MAKSYMCHUK / SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Statewide, 30.6 percent of people had a surprise medical bill in the last year.

On Sept. 25, the Colorado Health Institute released the first batch of results from its biennial Colorado Health Access Survey detailing a number of health coverage factors for Coloradans.

On the surface, the nonprofit's analysis notes, the numbers look good. Coverage rates remain steady, showing just 6.5 percent of Coloradans do not have health insurance. That's the same as in 2017, and represents a drop of nearly 8 percentage points from 2013, the year before the Affordable Care Act took effect.

In El Paso County, the uninsured rate actually decreased from 7.5 percent in 2017 to 5.6 percent in the latest report.

But "churn" — the percentage of people who lost, switched, or gained coverage in the past 12 months — edged slightly upwards.

"Churn can make it difficult for people to maintain continuity in their medical care," CHI's report says. "When churn increases, insurance companies and government programs have a harder time predicting the health needs of the people they cover."

Statewide, 19.1 percent of respondents experienced this, up from 16.5 percent in 2017. In El Paso County, "churn" increased from 14.5 percent to 18.6 percent. That means about 130,000 people in the county switched insurance or went without it for at least part of the year prior to when they were surveyed.

Also troubling from a statewide perspective: “Over 10 percent of Hispanics, over 11 percent of residents in some west slope communities, and nearly 12 percent of working- and middle-class families (those making $60-$75,000/year with a family of four) are uninsured," notes Adam Fox, director of strategic engagement for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, who is quoted in a Sept. 25 statement.

"With some rural Coloradans having only one insurance provider to 'choose' from, they can’t afford the premiums offered in a monopoly market," Fox continues. "Eighteen percent (up from 14 percent in 2017) expressed trouble paying medical bills."

While trends on mental health also appear worrying, they could be influenced by factors outside the survey's purview, such as decreasing stigma.

The share of people who reported poor mental health increased from 11.8 percent to 15.3 percent statewide, and from 12.1 percent to 14.6 percent in El Paso County. For the purposes of the survey, "poor mental health" was defined as "eight or more days of experiencing stress, depression, and problems with emotions out of the past 30."

But these stats "don’t necessarily mean that more people are experiencing poor mental health," the CHI report explains. "Instead, the rise could mean that more Coloradans are comfortable talking about their mental health, either because of increasing awareness of the topic or because most respondents took the survey online, rather than by phone, in 2019."

Below, view a profile of El Paso County (Health Statistics Region 4) based on the initial survey results. You can also visit CHI's website to see a statewide analysis and download profiles by region. CHI's next round of findings will be released in December.

Other useful links:

2017 Health Access Survey

2017 profiles by county and region

Correction Sept. 25: This story has been updated to reflect the correct source of the survey, Colorado Health Institute. A previous version incorrectly attributed the survey to the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.
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PFAS study will look at health effects on El Paso County residents

Posted By on Wed, Sep 25, 2019 at 2:29 PM

Contamination of El Paso County water supplies stemmed from the military's use of PFAS-based firefighting foam. - U.S. AIR NATIONAL GUARD PHOTO BY AIRMAN 1ST CLASS AMBER POWELL
  • U.S. Air National Guard photo by Airman 1st Class Amber Powell
  • Contamination of El Paso County water supplies stemmed from the military's use of PFAS-based firefighting foam.

Researchers at the Colorado School of Public Health will study the health effects of toxic PFAS chemicals — found in firefighting foam used by the military — in residents of El Paso County, thanks to a $1 million federal grant.

Colorado is just one of seven states named in a multisite study into the health effects of the chemicals. Nationally, the study will recruit "at least 2,000 children aged 4–17 years and 6,000 adults aged 18 years and older who were exposed to PFAS-contaminated drinking water," according to a statement from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is funding the project along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Colorado School of Public Health, at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Denver, plans to recruit 1,000 adults and 300 children for the study. Previous research has found that people who lived in the Fountain and Security-Widefield areas, near Peterson Air Force Base, prior to 2015 have higher-than-normal levels of PFAS chemicals in their blood.

The research team will include experts from the Colorado School of Mines, Children’s Hospital Colorado, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, and the University of Southern California, according to a statement from CU Anschutz.

John Adgate, chair of the school's Department of Environmental and Occupational Health and the co-principal investigator on the study, says it's not yet clear which members of the PFAS chemical group will be looked at, but the list will likely include "PFHxS, PFOS and PFOA, as well as a bunch of others."

Most extensive research into PFAS chemicals has so far been focused on PFOS and PFOA, while health effects of other PFAS aren't as well established.

"The El Paso County site is interesting because [the contamination is] mostly from firefighting foams, which results in people having elevated blood levels of what's known as PFHxS and PFOS," Adgate explains.

Adgate and his research team found last year that study participants who'd been exposed to the contamination had blood levels of PFHxS about 10 times as high as U.S. population reference levels. Levels of this chemical were also higher than those for residents in other communities exposed to PFAS.

That study included 220 blood samples from people who lived in Fountain or Security-Widefield for at least three years prior to 2015, when PFAS-based firefighting foam from Peterson contaminated the drinking water. This time, the study will likely also include people who lived in the Stratmoor Hills area just southeast of Colorado Springs, Adgate says.

Fountain, Security-Widefield and Stratmoor Hills water districts have all switched to different sources or added treatment systems in the past few years, so the public water supplies are now safe to drink.

Unfortunately, though, that doesn't mean residents who've lived in the area for a while no longer have PFAS — often called "forever chemicals" — in their bloodstreams.

"What's unique about this site is that exposure stopped, but people — because of the persistence of these compounds — people still have, I think, relatively high body burdens," Adgate says. "I'd like to think of it as kind of an unfortunate natural experiment, and it's my hope that the results of the study will provide some peace of mind to people in terms of what their levels are and whether or not it affects their health."

The study will examine health factors including lipids, kidney function, liver function, thyroid and sex hormones, glucose and insulin parameters, markers of immune function, and neurobehavioral outcomes in children.

"We are really excited to have Dr. Adgate spearheading this," says Liz Rosenbaum, who leads the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, a citizens' group advocating for clean water. Rosenbaum notes that many of the residents concerned about their exposure have already worked with Adgate to have their blood tested.

Soon, those residents could have a better idea of what the elevated levels actually mean for their health.

Based on conversations with residents, Rosenbaum believes kidney cancer and autoimmune diseases are among the most common health concerns in El Paso County, and those she's spoken with fear their conditions are tied to the PFAS chemicals previously found in public drinking water.

Rosenbaum says she hopes the study will lead to more research — and an eventual federal ban on PFAS in food packaging.

The Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition helped to pass a state bill this spring that restricts fire departments from using PFAS-based foam. As part of that legislation, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is holding policy work group meetings through February to discuss how the state should address the chemicals.

The coalition's "next plan of attack," Rosenbaum says, is passing a state bill that would lengthen the statute of limitations for reporting PFAS contamination.

Lawsuit looms for PFAS manufacturers

Meanwhile, a Colorado Springs law firm is participating in a massive class-action lawsuit meant to hold chemical companies accountable for their role in polluting the environment.

At a recent meeting of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, attorney David McDivitt of McDivitt Law Firm updated attendees on the status of the case.

McDivitt's firm teamed up with Napoli Shkolnik, a personal injury law firm in New York, to file suit against 3M, the manufacturer of the firefighting foam that contaminated water supplies in El Paso County (and at other sites near military installations around the country).

The case was consolidated with other class-action suits concerning PFAS manufacturers and moved to Charleston, South Carolina, where District Judge Richard Gergel on Oct. 4 will hear from scientific experts on both sides in an effort to understand the nature of the contamination before hearing arguments.

Gergel has said the case could represent an "existential threat" to 3M, DuPont and other manufacturers named in the lawsuit.

Still, the road ahead won't be easy. One of the plaintiffs' biggest challenges, McDivitt says, will be overcoming the "government contractor defense," which 3M will likely use to say it's not liable for health effects of PFAS products since it was commissioned by the military to make firefighting foam.
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Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Importing drugs from Canada may be a pipe dream

Posted By on Wed, Aug 21, 2019 at 12:00 AM

  • Shutterstock
Colorado’s effort to legalize the importation of drugs from Canada as a cost-saving measure for patients could be in trouble.

Canadian officials say they haven’t been consulted on the program, which also is being pursued by Florida, the Colorado Sun reports.

Our neighbor to the north could pass a law blocking prescription drug exports or add the drugs to its export control list, which would complicate Americans obtaining drugs from Canada.

Not surprisingly, PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry trade group, and the Healthcare Distribution Alliance, oppose it.

Even without those roadblocks, several steps remain for approval by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, including drafting rules, taking public comment and finalizing those rules.

On the other hand, the Trump administration appears to support creating rules for states to set up programs to import prescription drugs from Canada.
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