Health

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Point-in-Time count shows homeless population leveling out in Colorado Springs

Posted By on Tue, May 21, 2019 at 3:47 PM

Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown. - FAITH MILLER
  • Faith Miller
  • Police officers talk to residents in the Quarry homeless camp southeast of downtown.

According to numbers recently released from January's Point-in-Time homeless count, the total number of people experiencing homelessness in Colorado Springs appears to have stabilized after three years of consecutive large increases.

Volunteers conducting the count recorded a total of 1,562 people staying outside, in emergency shelters and living in transitional housing — 11 more than last year, representing an increase of less than 1 percent.

Since 2015, when volunteers counted 1,073 people, the city's homeless population has increased by 45.6 percent.

The federally-mandated estimate, considered an undercount, is conducted every year on a single night in January. This year, 180 volunteers canvassed the city conducting surveys and distributing socks, hats, gloves and hand-warmers.

This year's numbers showed a 13 percent decrease in the number of unsheltered people (those staying in tents, in cars or on the streets). Meanwhile, 7.7 percent more people were counted in emergency shelters and transitional housing. The numbers reflect positively on the city's push to add more low-barrier shelter beds this year, where clients don't have to meet sobriety requirements.

Springs Rescue Mission — already a low-barrier shelter — began adding beds in November, for a total of 150 new beds by the end of the season. Meanwhile, the Salvation Army Shelter & Services at RJ Montgomery began removing sobriety requirements for its 220 beds, and plans to add 40 beds for homeless families by the time renovations are complete.

Volunteers counted 131 unaccompanied youths this year, and 137 families (households with at least one adult and one child). Those represent 41 percent and 7 percent increases from the previous year, respectively, though families and children who may be staying temporarily with friends or family aren't counted in the Point-in-Time.

Data collected separately by El Paso County school districts for the 2017-2018 school year showed 449 families and 1,117 students without permanent housing. That data also includes those staying with friends or family, staying in trailer parks and living in motels.

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Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Gov. Polis travels to Colorado Springs, Pueblo for bill signings

Posted By on Tue, May 14, 2019 at 11:21 AM

Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4. - DEREK KUHN
  • Derek Kuhn
  • Gov. Jared Polis speaks at Sierra High School on May 4.

After stopping in Pueblo to sign several health care and agriculture-related bills, Gov. Jared Polis will visit Centennial Elementary School in Colorado Springs on May 14 to sign three bills passed by the state Legislature.

They include:

House Bill 1013: Sponsored by Rep. Tony Exum, D-Colorado Springs, this bill extends through 2028 the state's existing tax credit for child care expenses to low-income families, equal to 25 percent of child care expenses for taxpayers with a federal adjusted gross income of $25,000 or less. The credit is capped at $500 for a single dependent or $1,000 for two or more dependents.

Senate Bill 176: "Expanding Concurrent Enrollment Opportunities" — sponsored by Sens. Paul Lundeen, R-Monument, and Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village — requires school districts to offer opportunities for qualified high school students to enroll in college-level classes that can be applied to both a high school degree and a college degree. They may include academic courses, career and technical education, or apprenticeship and internship programs.

House Bill 1147: "Revise Traumatic Brain Injury Program" makes changes to the Colorado Traumatic Brain Injury Trust Fund, which provides services for people with brain injuries and funds research and education. Currently, the fund receives revenue from surcharges on DUI convictions, speeding and not wearing a helmet. The bill increases the surcharge assessed for speeding convictions, and expands the types of brain injuries that can be treated, among other changes. The bill's sponsors include two El Paso County Democrats, Rep. Marc Snyder and Sen. Pete Lee.

The bill signing at Centennial Elementary, located at 1860 Chelton Road in Colorado Springs, is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. May 14.

Before that, Polis plans to sign House Bill 1132, "School Incentives to Use Colorado Food and Producers," at Milberger Farms in Pueblo at 2 p.m.

He'll also sign House Bill 1174, "Out-of-Network Health Care Services," and House Bill 1326, "Rates for Senior Low-Income Dental Program," at 1 p.m. at Pueblo Community Health Center.

Polis' first stop in Pueblo is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Crossroads Treatment Clinic, where he'll sign four bills:

• Senate Bill 174, "Dependent Tuition Assistance Program Eligibility";
• Senate Bill 001, "Expand Medication-assisted Treatment Pilot Program";
• Senate Bill 065, "Peer Assistance Emergency Medical Service Provider";
• House Bill 1287, "Treatment for Opioids And Substance Use Disorders."
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Wednesday, May 8, 2019

City launches housing survey for affordable housing plan

Posted By on Wed, May 8, 2019 at 10:19 AM

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List
The city's Community Development Division launched an online housing survey to gather information from residents about affordability and other challenges related to finding a place to rent or own.

The anonymous survey, accessible online, will remain open until June 16. It's meant to inform the city's forthcoming comprehensive housing plan, which will lay a framework for adding 1,000 units of affordable housing each year. That plan is due for release later this year.

For more information about the survey, contact Community Development staff at communitydevelopment@coloradosprings.gov or 385-5912.

Median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Colorado Springs is $1,240 — higher than the national average of $1,180, according to a recent report from Apartment List. Rents here have increased 1.7 percent over the past year, a growth rate below the state average of 2.2 percent (but above the national average of 1.5 percent).

COURTESY OF APARTMENT LIST
  • Courtesy of Apartment List

In May of 2014, median rent for a two-bedroom in Colorado Springs was just $957, according to Apartment List's data. That means the city saw rent increase by 30 percent over five years.

Meanwhile, the city's median household income increased by 7 percent between 2012 and 2017, the last five years for which the U.S. Census Bureau has data available.

A 2014 housing needs assessment funded by the city and county predicted a shortage of almost 14,000 units for households making up to 80 percent of area median income — now calculated at about $65,000 for a family of four — by 2019. The comprehensive housing plan will include reassessing housing stock to determine whether the 2014 predictions were accurate, Community Development Division Manager Steve Posey has said.

Posey told the Independent in March that the city is looking at incentives for developers to reduce the cost of building affordable housing. Those could include breaks on tap fees (charges for connecting new housing to water lines) or building permit fees.

The Colorado Assembly recently passed House Bill 1228, which increases the amount of available Affordable Housing Tax Credits from $5 million to $10 million annually. That will free up more funding for affordable housing projects across the state, awarded through a competitive application process.
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Friday, May 3, 2019

May is Mental Health Month

Posted By on Fri, May 3, 2019 at 1:28 PM

NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast. - MIKE PACH
  • Mike Pach
  • NAMI board member Tyra Sandoval speaks at the nonprofit's annual fundraising breakfast.
As Mental Health Month begins, some advocates are celebrating what they regard as recent successes — such as the April 29 passage of House Bill 1269, which strengthens enforcement of parity laws that require insurers to prioritize mental health care to the same extent they do physical health.


And Senate Bill 222, which passed April 30, creates incentives for providers who treat individuals with severe mental health or substance use disorders, as well as strengthening a "safety net system" to expand high-intensity behavioral health treatment programs.

But daunting challenges remain, as highlighted by speakers at the May 2 fundraising breakfast for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Colorado Springs.

"I'm going to share some numbers with you this morning, and you need to buckle up: 445,000 Coloradans have a mental illness that is going untreated," said Tyra Sandoval, a NAMI board member and local realtor. "181,000 of those people report they sought treatment but were unable to get it. 51,000 alone live here in El Paso County. 152 people completed suicide in El Paso County in 2018, and seven of those were teens. 112 were men."

El Paso County Coroner Dr. Leon Kelly, the vice president of NAMI's board, spoke about his own struggle coping with a family member's mental illness.

"I knew what it was like to feel as if your only two options are to watch the person you care for drown or to hold on knowing inevitably you would drown with them," Kelly said. "No one should feel that lost. Every family deserves a place to go for help, and with NAMI, they do."

Kelly highlighted recent local projects informed and supported by NAMI: teen suicide prevention efforts, the formation of the El Paso County Sheriff's Office crisis intervention team, and the launch of the Man Therapy campaign, which aims to destigmatize mental illness for men.

NAMI provides a variety of free mental health programs and services for the community, including support groups and classes for family members of people with mental health issues.

Your reminder this month: Don't forget you can call the free, confidential Colorado Crisis Services phone line at any time if you find yourself in crisis, or just need a friendly ear. Their number: 1-844-493-TALK (8255). You can also text TALK to 38255 to speak with a trained mental health professional, or chat online.

AspenPointe also operates walk-in crisis center locations at:

115 S. Parkside Dr.
Colorado Springs
(Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week)

...and...

6071 E. Woodmen Road, Suite 135
St. Francis Medical Center, North Care Building
(Open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday - Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday)

The state Department of Human Services, in partnership with Mental Health Colorado, recently launched the Mental Wellness and Addiction Recovery Guide website for people considering mental health or substance use treatment. You can check it out at https://cowellnessrecovery.org/.
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Thursday, April 25, 2019

Measles cases at 25-year peak; Colorado avoids outbreak so far

Posted By on Thu, Apr 25, 2019 at 10:12 AM

The number of measles cases in the United States is at its highest since 2000 — the year measles was "eliminated from this country," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced April 24.
news4-2.jpg

So far this year, the CDC has recorded 695 cases of measles in 22 states. That includes just one adult case in Colorado.

"The high number of cases in 2019 is primarily the result of a few large outbreaks — one in Washington State and two large outbreaks in New York that started in late 2018," the statement reads. "The outbreaks in New York City and New York State are among the largest and longest lasting since measles elimination in 2000. The longer these outbreaks continue, the greater the chance measles will again get a sustained foothold in the United States."

As reported in the Independent on April 24, Colorado's immunization rates are among the lowest in the country. Some researchers say the state is vulnerable to a measles outbreak, because 90 to 95 percent immunization rates are needed to maintain “herd immunity” — protecting citizens from an outbreak — but the state’s kindergarten MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) fully immunized rate for the 2017-18 school year was 88.76 percent. El Paso County’s was 83.22 percent.

In schools (not kindergartens) MMR fully immunized rates were slightly higher. Across Colorado, 94.46 percent of students are fully immunized. In El Paso County, that number shrinks to 92.14 percent.

State lawmakers recently introduced House Bill 1312, as an effort to boost the state's immunization rates by essentially making it less convenient for parents to get non-medical vaccine exemptions. The bill was set for a vote of the full House on April 25.
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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Dems abandon paid leave program, Denver Post reports

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2019 at 5:47 PM

click image SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns. - ROBERT R GIGLIOTTI
  • Robert R Gigliotti
  • SB188 would have allowed moms to stay home, with pay, to care for newborns.

A contentious bill to create a paid family and medical leave program has been abandoned by state Democrats, the Denver Post reported April 24.

Senate Bill 188 was due for a vote of the full Senate this week, but never got that far. Instead, the Post reports, state Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Angela Williams, D-Denver, will introduce a new proposal to establish a series of studies into how the state should develop an insurance fund for paid leave.


The latest version of the bill would have required employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Republicans and business groups largely opposed the bill, labeling it as a tax increase that should be subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that any tax increase be put to a vote of the people.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers and the Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC were both among the bill's vocal opponents.

This was Winter's fifth attempt to pass a bill creating a paid family and medical leave program. Despite the trifecta of Democratic control in the House, Senate and governor's office, the Colorado Sun reports she feared the bill would not draw enough support without major amendments. However, it represents the closest the state ever got to implementing mandatory paid leave.
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Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Suthers comes out against paid family and medical leave bill

Posted By on Tue, Apr 23, 2019 at 5:05 PM

FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
Mayor John Suthers came out in opposition to a state bill that would create a paid family and medical leave program, ahead of the Senate vote scheduled for April 23.

In a statement, the mayor said, “I’ve spoken with businesses of all sizes and they’ve made it loud and clear that State Bill 19-188 will be an imposing detriment on the vitality of their operations. Though well-intentioned, the FAMLI [Family Medical Leave Insurance] proposal is the largest and most expensive program of its kind in the nation. The cost imposed upon every employee and employer in the state, as well as state government, will significantly harm our economy.”

The latest version of the bill would require employers and employees to pay a total of 0.64 percent of an employee’s annual wages into a state-run insurance program, which would provide partial wages for employees who take up to 12 weeks of family-related or medical leave. Employers would pay 40 percent of that premium, while employees would pay 60 percent.

The premium amount could change year-to-year, but would not exceed 0.99 percent of annual wages.

Other states that have already implemented similar programs include California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New York. None of those programs require employers to contribute.

Supporters of Senate Bill 188 accuse the "corporate lobby" of confusing the public about the bill.

“Despite misinformation spread by lobbyists seeking to sow doubt and confusion, economic experts have proven the program will be fiscally sound and completely solvent," said Judith Marquez, the co-director of 9-to-5 Colorado, an advocacy organization backing the bill. "We all agree that working families need to be able to care for newborns and seriously ill parents, children and spouses without risking their homes and financial security, and passing FAMLI now is the way to do it."

The Colorado Springs Chamber and EDC also released a statement opposing the bill, on April 17.

"Senate Bill 188 is a $1 billion or more tax increase that sets one-size-fits-all rules for paid time off of work, by law, and imposes them on all employers and employees regardless of an employer’s size, location, industry or the specific needs of a given workplace," the statement reads.

A recent amendment does allow local governments to opt out of the program, but Suthers pointed out in his statement that "local government employees could opt in, leaving private sector and nonprofit employees and employers to subsidize their coverage."

You could be eligible for partial wage benefits under the bill if you: have a serious health condition; are caring for a new child during the first year after birth, adoption or foster care placement; are caring for a family member with a serious health condition; have a need arising from a family member's active duty service or notice of an impending call to active duty; or if you or a family member has a serious health condition related to domestic abuse, sexual assault or abuse, or stalking.

Under the bill, an individual would be eligible to receive 90 percent of their wages below the average weekly wage (currently $1,295) and 50 percent of wages equal or above AWW. So, a person making $1,000 a week would receive $758.90 a week while on paid leave, and someone making $1,500 a week would get $1,000 a week on paid leave.

The person making $1,000 would pay about $200 a year into the paid leave program. Their employer would pay $133 a year.

The person making $1,500 would pay about $300 a year. Their employer would pay $200.
Opponents of the bill argue that the bill amounts to a tax increase, and therefore is subject to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which requires that tax increases be approved by a vote of the people. However, the paid leave program would be created as a state enterprise, not as a payroll tax — which would mean, according to a legislative analysis, that it wouldn't be subject to TABOR.

Sen. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, who sponsored the bill, has argued in the past that the premium amounts to about the same cost as a cup of coffee a week, and is a needed protection for Coloradans.

“Many workers simply can’t afford to choose between a paycheck and caring for a recovering spouse without the risk of being evicted or getting behind on utility bills,” she said in an October statement.
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Friday, April 12, 2019

Gov. Polis signs "red-flag bill" into law

Posted By on Fri, Apr 12, 2019 at 5:33 PM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com
——UPDATE MONDAY, APRIL 15——

Via a spokesperson, El Paso County Sheriff Bill Elder gave the following comment:

There is a mental health crisis in this country, in this state and our communities. The Red Flag Bill does nothing to address the underlying mental health of an individual, it only violates in my opinion, the right of a citizen to possess firearms. As I previously stated, I am exploring all available legal options and am committed to vigorously challenging the constitutionality of this law.


——ORIGINAL POST 5:33 P.M. FRIDAY, APRIL 12——

With the signature of Gov. Jared Polis, the "red-flag bill" became law on April 12 — making it legal for law enforcement to seize the firearms of those determined to pose a risk to themselves or others after a court issues an "Extreme Risk Protection Order."

"A strong majority of gun owners, non gun owners, Republicans, Independents, and Democrats agree: Extreme Risk Protection Order Laws save lives and are consistent with our 2nd amendment rights," reads an April 12 post on Polis' official Facebook page.

In fact, more than half of the state's counties, including El Paso, issued resolutions opposing the bill, claiming it violates Second Amendment rights and constitutional due process.

The new law allows an individual to petition the court to remove firearms from a family or household member they feel could endanger themselves or others. A judge would have to hold a hearing that day, or the following day, to determine whether to issue the protection order.

A second hearing must be held within 14 days to determine whether the person's weapons should be kept for up to 364 days. During that time, the person could not legally purchase, possess or receive any firearms.

The law's supporters say it's needed to address Colorado's high suicide rate. The state has the 10th highest suicide rate in the U.S., with 20.3 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017. El Paso County's rate is slightly higher, at 22.8 per 100,000. Half of all suicides were by firearm in 2017.

"While we still need to do more to help those in a mental health crisis access the help they urgently need, this bill provides a highly targeted tool to judges, families, and law enforcement to reduce gun violence, prevent suicide, and protect families and first responders," Polis' Facebook post reads.

Republicans attempting to force recall elections of state Democrats cite the red-flag law as a motivating factor.

At a press conference March 26, Polis said counties had the right to exercise discretion over how to enforce the law, The Colorado Sun reported. He dodged questions over whether he agreed with Attorney General Phil Weiser's earlier statement that any sheriff who would disregard a court order to remove someone's firearms should resign.

Lawmakers were mostly split along party lines in voting on the bill, though Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo, a Democrat, opposed it.
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Thursday, April 11, 2019

Mr. Trans Colorado Springs suffers injuries in alleged hate crime

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2019 at 2:56 PM

Emmit Davis suffered injuries in an attack he says was motivated by anti-transgender bias. - COURTESY EMMIT DAVIS
  • Courtesy Emmit Davis
  • Emmit Davis suffered injuries in an attack he says was motivated by anti-transgender bias.
A transgender man widely known by his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, suffered a broken nose and orbital fracture in an April 6 attack outside his home, which city police are investigating as a hate crime.

A GoFundMe page seeks to raise $2,000 to cover health costs for Emmit Davis, who was recently awarded the title of Mr. Trans Colorado Springs. As of April 11, the campaign had raised nearly $1,300 to help pay for Davis's emergency room and ambulance fees, as well as screenings for further damage.

Despite his injuries, Davis still plans to perform at 3 p.m. on April 13 at the Zodiac Music Venue and Bar for an all-ages Drag Story Time event.

The Colorado Springs Police Department investigated and confirmed five hate crimes motivated by bias against gay, bisexual and/or transgender people between 2016 and 2018. All occurred in 2016.

Those crimes accounted for 14 percent of the 35 confirmed hate crimes police investigated during the same time period. Last year, 12 hate crimes were confirmed by police, including 10 motivated by racial bias and two motivated by religious bias. Police confirmed eight total hate crimes in 2017 and 15 in 2016.
Davis as his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, before he was attacked. - COURTESY EMMIT DAVIS
  • Courtesy Emmit Davis
  • Davis as his drag king persona, Axel G. Roze, before he was attacked.
"We treat these [hate crime cases] at a very high level," says police spokesperson Lt. Howard Black. "Our intelligence unit has responsibility for these cases, so they’re something that we put a tremendous amount of investigative energy into. It’s just not acceptable in our city."

In a public Facebook post April 9, Davis said:

"For my community and anyone whose watching..... Our stance our fight has just begun. But I truly need y'all to remember, we are fighting so strongly to be seen as human please do NOT forget our oppressors are human too. Don't forget that we cannot fill ourselves with the same hate guys, or nothing will change. We are and always will be a strong community that's more united and more supportive than any community I have ever witnessed and it's truly amazing so as a community let's show that we don't want to spread more hate. There is nothing in this world that says because I'm trans or because [you're] gay we aren't human, so let's remind people that humanity wasn't meant to be perfect it was meant to be messy, we don't have a cookie cutter to follow. All eyes are on us. Let's give em hell!"
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Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Urban Peak will bring mental health care to homeless youth on the streets

Posted By on Wed, Apr 10, 2019 at 4:06 PM

urban_peak.jpg
Barriers to mental health care exist for everyone, but people experiencing homelessness — and especially homeless youth — have the odds stacked against them.

"While close to half of youth in homelessness struggle with mental illness and substance abuse, the support they need is too far away, takes too long to schedule, and is often with clinicians who lack specific expertise working with youth in homelessness,” Urban Peak Colorado Springs Executive Director Shawna Kemppainen was quoted in a recent statement from the nonprofit, which serves homeless youth.

A $5 million federal grant, announced April 9, could help address those challenges in Colorado by bringing mental health care directly to teens and young adults on the streets.

Over the next five years, the funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration will pay for mental health clinicians to provide street outreach for youth ages 16 to 25 in Denver and Colorado Springs. The providers will contract with Urban Peak in both cities, which will, in turn, contract with the state's Office of Behavioral Health on the project.

The project is driven by three major goals, according to a statement from that state office: 1) identify homeless youth suffering from serious mental disorders and/or intellectual developmental disabilities; 2) promote collaboration across state agencies to increase youth access to mental health treatment; and 3) connect homeless youth to "public benefits, employment and social support and recovery services."


In Colorado Springs, the funding will allow Urban Peak to embed two clinicians in street outreach and add a case manager to provide wraparound services.

"While some of the help will look like traditional counseling in an office-type setting, much will happen in varied chunks of time across varied environments," Urban Peak's statement explains.

Urban Peak Colorado Springs already has an outreach team that hands out resources and connects youth with housing services (including the nonprofit's own transitional housing program and 20-bed shelter), but the team currently doesn't provide mental health care.

The grant will allow Urban Peak to begin contracting with clinicians this summer, Kemppainen says.

“The whole premise [of having providers do outreach] is to meet youth where they are, when they need it," she says. "...Mental and behavioral health support is crucial to creating the housing stability, employability and self-reliance youth need to exit homelessness.”
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Friday, March 29, 2019

Red-flag bill passes Senate, heads back to House with amendments

Posted By on Fri, Mar 29, 2019 at 5:21 PM

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  • Shutterstock.com
A bill that's divided Coloradans on either side of the gun debate is now just a vote away from heading to Gov. Jared Polis' desk.

House Bill 1177, titled Extreme Risk Protection Orders — better known as the "red-flag bill" — passed the Colorado Senate on March 28 on a vote of 18-17, with Senate President Leroy Garcia of Pueblo the lone Democrat opposed. It now heads back to the House, which must approve the Senate's amendments. The House voted 38-25 in an initial vote March 4.

The bill would give judges the power to remove firearms from a person who "poses a significant risk to self or others," within two days of a household member or law enforcement officer petitioning the court.

The Senate's amendments, which don't substantially change the bill, include adding the requirement that a law enforcement officer serving such a protection order provide a notice with "referrals to appropriate resources, including domestic violence, behavioral health, and counseling resources."

“We at Ceasefire have worked for three years to bring this concept into law, and feel gratified that the Colorado General Assembly has embraced this life-saving measure,” Eileen McCarron, president of Colorado Ceasefire Legislative Action, said in a March 28 statement. “This is a significant step for a state that has suffered numerous horrific firearm tragedies."

The bill's House passage has already led to an uproar in Republican-majority counties across the state. The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners voted March 12 to become a "Second Amendment Preservation County," vowing not to "appropriate funds, resources, employees or agencies to initiate unconstitutional seizures in unincorporated El Paso County." Around two dozen other counties have issued similar resolutions.

At a press conference March 26, Gov. Polis said counties had the right to exercise discretion over how to enforce the law, the Colorado Sun reported. He dodged questions over whether he agreed with Attorney General Phil Weiser's earlier statement that any sheriff who would disregard a court order to remove someone's firearms should resign.

The bill has been championed by nonprofit Mental Health Colorado, which has not taken a position on how counties should enforce it.

"We haven’t taken a position on the counties’ position or the enforcement of the law," interim CEO Nancy VanDeMark told the Independent. "Our position is really based on the suicide rate in Colorado and the association between suicide, deaths by suicide, and firearms, and the need to intervene in our suicide rate in the state."

Colorado has the 10th highest suicide rate in the U.S., with 20.3 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017. El Paso County's rate is slightly higher, at 22.8 per 100,000.

Republicans opposed to the bill argue that risk protection orders don't provide due process and jeopardize Second Amendment rights.

The state senators from El Paso County split along party lines, in accordance with most of the rest of the Assembly. Republican Sens. Dennis Hisey, Paul Lundeen, Owen Hill and Bob Gardner all opposed the bill. Democratic Sen. Pete Lee voted in favor.

Republican House Reps. Shane Sandridge, Dave Williams, Larry Liston, Tim Geitner, Terri Carver and Lois Landgraf were opposed. Democratic Reps. Tony Exum and Marc Snyder were in favor.

Here's a draft of the bill as it currently stands:
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Thursday, March 28, 2019

Gov. Polis signs hospital transparency bill

Posted By on Thu, Mar 28, 2019 at 12:21 PM

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  • Shutterstock.com
Gov. Jared Polis signed a bill March 28 requiring greater financial transparency from hospitals, which the bill's sponsors say will increase competition to keep health care costs down.

Titled "Hospital Transparency Measures To Analyze Efficacy," and sponsored by Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, along with Sens. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City, and Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale, House Bill 1001 will require hospitals to disclose costs and expenditures to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF), which will create an annual hospital expenditure report to be posted online. The report must include uncompensated care costs by payer group and a breakdown of different categories of expenses.

Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsored House Bill 1001. - COLORADO HOUSE DEMOCRATS
  • Colorado House Democrats
  • Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsored House Bill 1001.
The new responsibilities for HCPF outlined in the bill entail a minimal workload increase for the department, but won't require any additional funding, legislative staff found.

Hospitals will have to provide the following information to HCPF:

• the cost report submitted to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,
• an annual audited financial statement,
• the total number of available and licensed beds,
• inpatient and outpatient statistics,
• charges by payer group,
• contractual allowances (the difference between what hospitals bill carriers and what they are paid),
• bad debt write-offs,
• charity write-offs,
• a breakdown of operating expenses,
• a balance sheet,
• staffing information,
• and information on acquisitions and sales.

The bill passed the House on January 31 with a vote of 39-22, and the Senate (with several amendments) on March 14 with a vote of 34-1. The House voted to approve the Senate's amendments on March 18. The governor signed it on March 28.

“The high cost of health care is harming both Colorado consumers and businesses. Hardworking people are struggling to keep up with the rising cost of health care, particularly in rural Colorado where we’re seeing some of the highest premiums in the country,” Rep. Kennedy said in a March 18 statement. “By requiring hospitals to be transparent about their spending, we can increase competition in a way that will reduce costs for all.”

Rep. Tony Exum, the Democrat who represents House District 17 in Colorado Springs, is among the bill's cosponsors.

All state senators from El Paso County, including Republican Sens. Dennis Hisey, Paul Lundeen, Owen Hill, and Bob Gardner, as well as Democratic Sen. Pete Lee, voted in favor of the bill.

Republican House Reps. Shane Sandridge, Dave Williams, Larry Liston, Tim Geitner, Terri Carver and Lois Landgraf were opposed in the final House vote. Democratic Reps. Exum and Marc Snyder were in favor.
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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 WebMD.com: "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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