Health

Friday, May 25, 2018

Clean Water Coalition, left out of PFC summit, hits back at EPA

Posted By on Fri, May 25, 2018 at 4:54 PM

FOUNTAIN VALLEY CLEAN WATER COALITION
  • Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition


The Air Force fire-fighting chemicals that contaminated Security, Widefield and Fountain water could be even more dangerous than the Environmental Protection Agency thought — and local activists are not happy with the feds’ response.


Perfluorinated chemicals, or PFCs, have contaminated water supplies near military bases around the world. Aquifers that supplied residents of Security, Widefield and Fountain were among sites affected.


The water district has taken measures to protect its residents from unsafe water, and this year’s federal budget allocated additional money for the military to install and maintain water filters to reduce the contamination or purchase water elsewhere. The water has been labeled officially safe for drinking. However, the problem could be worse than the federal government had maintained.


Politico first reported a couple of weeks ago that the EPA sought to cover up a study from the Center for Disease Control lowering the standard for acceptable levels of PFCs in drinking water by one-sixth. In 2016, the EPA reduced the acceptable level of PFCs from 400 parts per trillion to 70. The report, however, indicated that safe exposure levels could be as low as 12 ppt.


Liz Rosenbaum, the Democratic candidate for House District 21 and cofounder of the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition, said the report came at no surprise to her community.


“The information being put out by the water districts that the water is safe, I believe is covering up the fact that we’ve been polluted for three, four decades and our entire Windmill Gulch aquifer is destroyed,” Rosenbaum said. “And the people who knew, the companies that knew this was a cancer-causing chemical need to be held accountable for ruining our aquifer.”


The EPA drew further ire from clean-water activists when it refused to allow community representatives to attend the National Leadership Summit on Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) this week. EPA chief Scott Pruitt described the summit as a way to bring together “federal partners, several tribes, dozens of industry, non-governmental groups and other national organizations” to “share valuable recommendations for how EPA should deal with PFAS in communities and communicate the risks associated with PFAS.” However, community groups, journalists and even legislative staff were excluded from attending the summit.


Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition and 36 other communities across the country affected by PFCs responded by posting photos online displaying statistics about their communities and reasons they felt they should have had a say. Fountain Valley’s photo showed a sign that read: “We need a seat at the table because PFAS toxins from the Air Force base are in our bodies and people are getting sick.”


The EPA recently announced it will visit communities in Michigan, New Hampshire and Colorado where PFCs have contaminated drinking water.


Rosenbaum says it’s essential that agency representatives take the time to meet with activists in the Widefield, Security and Fountain area.


“What I’m hoping happens with the EPA coming here is that they actually meet with the Fountain Valley Clean Water Coalition,” Rosenbaum said. “If they don’t access us and what we have to say, elections are coming in November, and we will have our voices heard.”

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Friday, May 4, 2018

Penrose-St. Francis Health Service rethinking $550 million hospital project

Posted By on Fri, May 4, 2018 at 12:35 PM

St. Francis Medical Center at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road. - COURTESY CENTURA HEALTH
  • Courtesy Centura Health
  • St. Francis Medical Center at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road.
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services is rethinking its proposed high-rise hospital on Fillmore Street just west of Interstate 25, the Colorado Springs Business Journal reports today.

Penrose bought the property last summer and agreed to limit the height to 165 feet for the $550 million medical campus.

The Journal's Helen Robinson reports the reconsideration is part of a new strategic plan process for the health services provider.

From the story:
Penrose-St. Francis Health Services is kicking off a new strategic plan for Colorado Springs, reassessing whether it needs to build the new hospital planned for its Fillmore Street site, completing a $102 million expansion at St. Francis Medical Center, and seeking a new CEO.

It’s a big year.

Interim CEO Brian Erling, appointed after longtime CEO Margaret Sabin stepped down March 16, is at the helm through all the changes. He’s focused on navigating a rapidly evolving health care landscape and working out what Colorado Springs really needs.

That includes taking a hard look at plans for a $550 million medical campus — which would be Penrose-St. Francis’ third hospital in the Springs — and deciding whether to go ahead.

Penrose-St. Francis is still “very interested” in using the 80-acre site at the corner of Fillmore Street and Centennial Boulevard, Erling said, but new plans will unfold based on new information.

“You do have to take a step back and say, ‘Gosh, are you going to spend half a billion dollars and end up with only a handful more beds and a handful more [operating rooms] to meet the community need? Was that really the best use of that much money?’” he said. “So we’re asking those questions — and the answer might be yes, that is a good use of the money, let’s build the hospital over there; it just needs to be a bit bigger.”

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Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Colorado Springs is the place for knee and hip replacements

Posted By on Tue, May 1, 2018 at 11:44 AM

A screen shot of one of the pages on the new website.
  • A screen shot of one of the pages on the new website.
You've probably heard of people going to Thailand for cosmetic surgery and to Mexico for bariatric surgery.

Now the Colorado Springs Convention & Visitors Bureau has launched a campaign to attract people looking to put Colorado Springs on the map for a variety of medical procedures.

"The goal of the site is to hyper-target potential patients in U.S. counties who search key terms that relate to specialized procedures and highlight Colorado Springs as a destination," the CVB says in a release.

The CVB is teaming with Venue Health & Analytics LLC and Penrose-St. Francis Health Services to initiate the website.

The pitch relies on the city's brand, Olympic City USA, noting "Olympic-class care."

The website contains this message from Mayor John Suthers:
As the domestic headquarters of the U.S. Olympic Movement for nearly 40 years, Colorado Springs, Olympic City USA has naturally attracted an incredible talent pool of medical practitioners and sports scientists. That, along with our unrivaled natural beauty, abundance of training grounds and the presence of tens of thousands of amateur and elite athletes, make Colorado Springs the ideal place to get quality care and the inspiration to reach your personal best.
But the website doesn't contain any mention of the city-owned UCHealth Memorial Hospital, nor does it mention the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' planned sports medicine facility due to open in the next couple of years.

From the release:
The site includes a categorized listing of highly rated Colorado Springs healthcare services, information and resources for these consumers. Penrose-St. Francis’ facilities, physicians and high ratings in hip, knee and heart valve replacement, alongside highly desirable visitor amenities, uniquely position Colorado Springs as an ideal choice for away-from-home healthcare.

“As healthcare providers, we have to reach consumers and patients wherever they are, and this partnership is an excellent opportunity to connect platforms,” Chris Valentine, Director of Marketing and Communications for Penrose-St. Francis, said. “We are on a mission to build flourishing communities by providing world-class whole person care and we want to share that mission with everyone, no matter where they are located.”

The site’s SEO marketing will be managed by Venue Health. “We provide destination health and predictive analytic services designed to improve access to higher quality health care services. Our work fosters compelling brand creations that visualizes both medical and tourism data in an industry that is undergoing explosive growth,” says Venue Health CEO Bob Durham.

Considering Colorado Springs and nearby Manitou Springs were founded on medical tourism, the concept isn’t new. Healing mineral waters, ample sunshine and fresh mountain air made the region a popular recovery choice for those suffering from tuberculosis in the late 1800s. “There is a lucrative and untapped market for medical tourism. People are willing to travel to other U.S. destinations, for longer periods of time, for top-quality health care and a beautiful location in which to recover. There’s no better place to do that than right here at the foot of the Rocky Mountains,” says CVB Chief Innovation Officer Amy Long. The partnership aims to fulfill the CVB’s mission to bring more visitors to Colorado Springs at Pikes Peak. 
Part of the city's ploy to draw people seeking health remedies was the slogan "City of Sunshine," which lasted for several decades.
COURTESY PIONEERS MUSEUM
  • Courtesy Pioneers Museum

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Memorial Hospital earns Level 1 Trauma Center designation

Posted By on Tue, Apr 17, 2018 at 10:24 AM

Memorial Hospital's emergency department got a new designation: Level 1 Trauma. It's the first outside of the Denver metro area. - COURTESY UCHEALTH-MEMORIAL HOSPITAL
  • Courtesy UCHealth-Memorial Hospital
  • Memorial Hospital's emergency department got a new designation: Level 1 Trauma. It's the first outside of the Denver metro area.

City-owned Memorial Hospital Central, operated under a 40-year lease by UCHealth, has achieved Level 1 Trauma Center status, the first such designation given by state health regulators outside the Denver metro area.

We wrote about the application here and here.

Memorial Central is home to Colorado's busiest emergency department. The designation was finalized on April 16 following a survey and review.

We've asked Penrose-St. Francis Health Services for an update on its application for Level 1 Trauma Center designation and will circle back when we hear something.

Here's the news release from Memorial, including comments from Mayor John Suthers:

The State of Colorado has designated UCHealth Memorial Hospital Central as a Level I Trauma Center, making it one of only four hospitals in the state with the highest classification for trauma care. A Level I distinction recognizes the hospital has the ability to treat severe and complex injuries, giving southern Colorado residents rapid access to top-level emergency and trauma care without having to go to Denver.

The state finalized the designation on April 16 after a survey and review process, and the hospital is the first in southern Colorado to receive the classification.

“Earning this Level I designation has taken years of planning and advancements,” said Joel Yuhas, Memorial’s president and CEO. “Memorial has recruited some of the nation’s best trauma surgeons, upgraded our facilities, led important research, and hired excellent subspecialty surgeons to support the trauma program. This preparation, and the Level I designation, will result in more lives being saved.”

Hospital trauma designations are determined according to varying criteria, including medical resources and patient volumes. Key elements required to be a Level 1 trauma center include around-the-clock coverage by trauma surgeons and prompt availability of specialists in orthopedics, neurosurgery and anesthesiology, among others. Such facilities also must be leaders in trauma prevention and education, conduct research and meet volume requirements for treating severely injured patients.

Memorial Central, which houses the state’s busiest emergency department, provided care in 2017 to more than 2,100 trauma patients who met trauma registry inclusion criteria. The majority of trauma cases involve blunt injuries that are often the result of incidents such as motor vehicle crashes, pedestrians or bicyclists hit by vehicles, falls and penetrating trauma.

“Achieving a Level 1 designation is the fulfillment of a promise made to the community when Memorial became part of UCHealth in 2012,” said Dr. Thomas Schroeppel, the hospital’s trauma medical director. “Because of the investments made in the hospital – both in technology and medical expertise – and the expansion of physician training programs through a strong collaboration with the University of Colorado School of Medicine, we are able to ensure southern Coloradans have access to top trauma and surgical critical care services. This is not just an honor for the hospital, but a time of celebration for Colorado Springs and beyond.”

Until now, Colorado’s only Level I trauma centers were located in the metro Denver region, and southern Colorado patients with the most severe injuries might have to fly to Denver for care.

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers said, “We congratulate UCHealth and Memorial Hospital on this designation. Colorado Springs residents are fortunate to receive care by the high caliber of medical professions serving our community. We appreciate UCHealth’s commitment to the Pikes Peak region and to providing its residents with access to excellent medical care.”

It is the third elite designation Memorial Central’s trauma center has received in 2018. The hospital also was verified as a Level I adult and Level II pediatric trauma center by the American College of Surgeons (ACS). The ACS reviewers highlighted the strong collaboration that has been built with Children’s Hospital Colorado that has led UCHealth Memorial to provide exceptional care to children.

“This highest level of trauma care means critically-injured patients stay closer to home, that families can more easily stay or visit them, and that the long process of healing and rehabilitation occurs not miles away, but across the street,” said Dr. David Steinbruner, Memorial Hospital’s chief of staff and an emergency medicine physician.

In January, Memorial Central become the first hospital in southern Colorado to be named a Comprehensive Stroke Center, a classification given to programs that offer the highest and most advanced level of stroke care. As the only hospital in the region with multiple teams of neurosurgeons and neuro-interventional physicians on-call 24/7, Memorial has the unique capabilities to quickly and expertly treat every kind of stroke or brain aneurysm. These advanced capabilities are saving lives and improving outcomes for patients because time is crucial in the treatment of stroke. Getting the best care rapidly can lead to a better recovery.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

UPDATE: Ex-Memorial Hospital employee wins nearly $1 million jury verdict

Posted By on Mon, Apr 9, 2018 at 2:10 PM

Memorial Hospital, part of the UCHealth system, was found liable by a jury in a lawsuit filed by a former employee. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Memorial Hospital, part of the UCHealth system, was found liable by a jury in a lawsuit filed by a former employee.
UPDATE:
UCHealth spokesperson Dan Weaver provided this statement via email:

UCHealth Memorial is obviously disappointed in the jury’s decision. We maintain that we had an appropriate and legal reason for terminating the employee. UCHealth Memorial is now considering filing an appeal of the verdict or a motion for a new trial.
—-ORIGINAL POST 2:10 P.M. MON., APRIL 9, 2018—

This blog has been updated to correct Beth Falcone's job title.

An El Paso County jury returned the biggest monetary award for compensatory damages in a case of its kind when it awarded nearly $1 million to a former Memorial Hospital nurse sonographer, according to the woman's nurse's attorney, Gary Kramer.

The verdict in favor of Beth Falcone was $148,000 for lost wages and about $800,00 for compensatory damages.

Falcone sued city-owned Memorial Hospital in 2016 after she was fired following complaints she made about how use of and care for medical equipment compromised patient safety.

Read our story at the time found here.

As stated by the lawsuit: "Falcone made multiple good faith reports and disclosures regarding potential threats to patient safety due to improper and/or inconsistent performance and documentation of HLD [high level disinfection] of vaginal ultrasound probes at UCH-MHS." After that, she was terminated.

In a news release, Kramer says, "The jury clearly believed Beth. This verdict sends a strong message to UCHealth and all other health care employees in Colorado. It is rare for an employee's lawsuit to proceed to trial. This case proves that the system works. We believe justice was served."

Read the release here:
We've asked Memorial for a comment and will update if and when we hear something.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Transit Mix announces plan for mountain bike park in Colorado Springs in midst of controversial quarry fight

Posted By on Wed, Apr 4, 2018 at 11:54 AM

Graphic renderings of the proposed mountain bike park were produced "at the direction of the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which financed the renderings with funds Transit Mix donated to the City for the purpose." - FLOWRIDE CONCEPTS
  • Flowride Concepts
  • Graphic renderings of the proposed mountain bike park were produced "at the direction of the City of Colorado Springs Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department, which financed the renderings with funds Transit Mix donated to the City for the purpose."
In the midst of a controversial fight over a proposed new quarry, Transit Mix has announced plans to make an older quarry off West Woodmen Road (that would close if the new one is approved) a world-class mountain biking park. The Springs currently lacks such an amenity, and this would be the largest such park in the state.

Transit Mix, a subsidiary of Chicago-based Continental Materials, has long been trying to establish a quarry on a portion of the 1,200-acre historic Hitch Rack Ranch, just outside Colorado Springs to the south on Highway 115. The beautiful property is known to be home to a great variety of wildlife, and is surrounded by a scattering of homes.

Not surprisingly, the idea of a quarry in the area has been met with resistance. Many homeowners certainly don't want it (and many say they did not suspect they'd end up next to a quarry when they built their homes). Some environmental groups oppose it. And, perhaps most damagingly, the powerful El Pomar Foundation, which owns land in the area, vocally opposes the proposal.

FLOWRIDE CONCEPTS
  • Flowride Concepts
In a unusual move, the state Mined Land Reclamation Board initially denied a permit for the quarry, in spite of staff recommendations to approve it. Transit Mix is shooting for approval a second time. The proposal will be considered by MLRB on April 25 and 26. If approved, the proposal would next go to the El Paso County Commissioners, which would consider a special use permit.

In the meantime, Transit Mix has been wooing leaders and citizens in Colorado Springs to latch onto the idea of a new quarry. Many City Councilors and state legislators have come out in support of Transit Mix's offer to close and move two batch plants (on Costilla Street and North Nevada Avenue) and accelerate the closure of two existing quarries (Black Canyon near Manitou Springs and Pikeview in northwest Colorado Springs) if granted a permit to open a quarry at Hitch Rack Ranch. (Opponents have claimed that Black Canyon and Pike View have been closed for some time and that they are marked as "open" only to avoid required restoration. Although Daniel Cole, speaking on behalf of Transit Mix, says Pikeview produced 300,000 tons of limestone in 2017.)
FLOWRIDE CONCEPTS
  • Flowride Concepts
Now, Transit Mix has announced yet another goodie: A mountain bike park that would be the largest in the state on the Pikeview quarry site — again, only if Hitch Rack is approved. The city's parks system would be given control of the property and would be responsible for building the park.

A Transit Mix release notes:

A mountain bike park in Colorado Springs has been a community vision for a number of years. In 2013, the Colorado Springs Parks Department led an extensive community planning process to update the Parks System Master Plan. The approved 2014 Parks System Master Plan recommends broadening recreational opportunities within Colorado Springs, to include a destination mountain bike park. The master plan, viewable here, mentions the need for a bike park on pages 136 and 141.

When Transit Mix informed the City of Colorado Springs of the potential accelerated closure of Pikeview, the Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services Department shared its vision for a community mountain bike park on the property.

Subsequently, Transit Mix, the Colorado Springs Parks Department and area cycling advocates and organizations engaged in a series of conversations about what the Pikeview Mountain Bike Park should look like. The ideas generated from these conversations shaped the concept plan released today.
Transit Mix notes that the plan has the support of local cycling advocate groups including USA Cycling. The Indy has also spoken to Cory Sutela of Medicine Wheel Trail Advocates, who expressed great excitement for the plan.
FLOWRIDE CONCEPTS
  • Flowride Concepts
Transit Mix details the plan:

The concept plan for a mountain bike park at Pikeview envisions an extensive variety of trails, loops and features that cater to all types and styles of riders. Projected amenities include mountain, downhill and slopestyle tracks, a BMX and pump track, a youth learning area, flow trails, a cyclocross course and a bike polo field. The plan allows for trail networks that could be utilized for organized races and events. It also provides space for facilities and amenities that are compatible with the bike park, including family picnic areas, a playground and a large dog park.

Pikeview offers several unique characteristics conducive to a bike park. The size of the parcel, approximately 150 acres, would provide significant space to create a variety of trail types, features and experiences. Other bike parks along the Front Range are much smaller in size, ranging from a few acres to 40 acres. The nearly 900 feet of vertical change in elevation at Pikeview would allow for longer, steeper and more challenging trails. Local rocks from the site could be used to create sustainable technical features in the trail as well. Transit Mix’s existing maintenance shop could serve as a small events center, offering rental space for parties, bike clinics, races, bike service and rentals and a small coffee shop or concessionaire.

Furthermore, Pikeview’s location adjacent to the Pike National Forest provides for possible trail connections to the national forest and an existing trail network atop Rampart Range. The views from the property are uninterrupted and expansive, further enhancing the users’ experience of the property. There are also opportunities for regional trail connectivity with the existing Foothills Trail, a tier II urban trail at the entrance to Pikeview.
John Hazlehurst contributed to this report. This post has been updated.
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Friday, March 30, 2018

Flu-related hospitalizations break records this year in Colorado

43877143_subscription_s.jpg

The 2017-2018 flu season rocked Colorado with a record-breaking number of hospitalizations. According to the Denver Channel, the total number so far is up to 3,690 hospitalizations and counting, the most Colorado has ever seen in one flu season.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says 48% of all adult ER patients sought out treatment at the ER when they weren't sick enough to be admitted to the hospital and their physicians' offices were closed. This flu season, many hospitals and emergency rooms were flooded because of the flu.

The Colorado Department of Health and Environment also reports there have been a total of 156 outbreaks of the flu in Colorado, the highest number of influenza-related outbreaks on record. People 65 years or older are being hospitalized for the flu more than any other age group throughout the state, and children under the age of six are the second highest group, with an incidence rate of 110 cases per 100,000 people.

Flu hospitalizations peaked at the end of December and have been slowing declining since then. On a national scale, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recorded a total of 21,279 flu-related hospitalizations since October 1, the typical start of the flu season.

There is a little bit of good news, however. Colorado researchers are now pushing closer to a universal flu vaccine. Amy Aspelund and her team at Vivaldi Biosciences, a company based at the Research Innovation Center at Colorado State University, are working on a flu vaccine called deltaFLU. This vaccine could fight more strains and get to market more quickly.

The new vaccine is a nasal spray that will allow them to react faster to the changes in the multiple different flu strains or other pandemic-like viruses.

“We’re trying to work with the global community to make a vaccine that will ultimately benefit people,” says Aspelund. “We have data in ferrets, soon to be humans, that our vaccine would be cross protective,” Carrie Wick, spokeswoman for Vivaldi Biosciences, says. That could mean that people would have to get flu shots less often, Aspelund says.
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Colorado Supreme Court rules Smokebrush Foundation clear to sue city

Posted By on Mon, Feb 5, 2018 at 1:15 PM

Katherine Tudor and Don Goede, founder and executive director, respectively, of the Smokebrush Foundation, as they observed testing samples taken from their property in 2013. - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Katherine Tudor and Don Goede, founder and executive director, respectively, of the Smokebrush Foundation, as they observed testing samples taken from their property in 2013.
In April 2013, we wrote about pollution from the city's former coal gasification plant drifting onto a neighbor property owned by the Smokebrush Foundation.

Feb.6, the Colorado Supreme Court issued a ruling in Smokebrush's favor on one matter, which clears the way for Smokebrush to sue the city for damages. For background on the case, see this explanation we published as the Supreme Court prepared to hear oral arguments a year ago.

The ruling said the the city is liable for gas pollution it generated almost 80 years ago that's migrated to the Smokebrush property on Cimino Drive under the Colorado Avenue bridge.

The case could impact other claims across the state that involve pollution migrating to neighboring properties, Smokebrush's attorney Randall Weiner says in a phone interview.

In fact, the city of Boulder recently reached a settlement with Xcel Energy for $3.6 million for contamination beneath city property caused by an old gas plant, he notes. "If cities can obtain monies from utilities for contaminating the sites, then certainly neighbors like Smokebrush should be able to obtain monies to clean up the site" caused by pollution year ago.

Other cities that have such sites include Sterling, La Junta and Grand Junction, Weiner says.

"We've had to jump through so many hoops just to get the opportunity to get justice for the Smokebrush Foundation," he says, noting the case will be returned to District Court in coming weeks where damages will be litigated. "Thanks to Kat Tudor and Don Goede [with Smokebrush Foundation] for having the staying power."

Weiner reports his clients have had no settlement discussions with the city.

Here's the conclusion of the Supreme Court:
For these reasons, we conclude that the City has not waived immunity under section 24-10-106(1)(c)’s dangerous condition of a public building exception for Smokebrush’s asbestos-related claims. We further conclude, however, that the City has waived immunity under section 24-10-106(1)(f)’s public gas facility exception for Smokebrush’s coal tar-related claims. Accordingly, we affirm in part and reverse in part the judgment of the court of appeals, and we remand this case to that court with instructions that the case be returned to the district court for the dismissal of Smokebrush’s asbestos-related claims and further proceedings on its coal tar-related claims.
Read the entire ruling here:



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Friday, January 12, 2018

Outdoor fires pose danger in dry spell

Posted By on Fri, Jan 12, 2018 at 11:17 AM

JEFF SOUVILLE VIA FLICKR
  • Jeff Souville via Flickr
If you've glanced at TV news over the past few weeks, you've probably noticed the uptick in creekside fires. It's a scary sign of the underlying conditions: Lots of people are camping outside because there's not enough shelter space, let alone housing, for the growing homeless population during one of the warmest, driest winters in memory.

Brian Vaughan, the new spokesperson for Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD), reports that the number of homeless-related illegal fire incidents grew about 50 percent last year, from 186 in 2016 to 275 in 2017. "Because of the way these get categorized, those could be any type of outdoor fire — a grass fire, trash, even smoke," he told the Indy. "And when you've got combustibles around, no water source and maybe people aren't monitoring it closely, that's when we say, 'Look, this is unsafe."

Propane-based heaters, like the ones Blackbird Outreach has been distributing to homeless people, can be a safer alternative, Vaughan says, provided they're at least 10 feet from, say, nylon tents or other flammable materials. Even still, wind and radiant heat can lead to fire danger.

"Today [Jan. 12], fire risk is low because of the rain, but this afternoon we're expecting strong gusts, so it'll probably go back to moderate [fire danger]," Vaughan says. The last "red flag" level risk was about a month ago, but "fuel moisture is low, even up in the mountains."

Those basic laws of physics have got residents and business owners near popular homeless hangouts worried for their property, so much so that over 120 people showed up to a westside meeting on the matter, according to the Gazette.

But it's not just people experiencing homelessness that pose the risk, it's also housed people with recreational fires or inadvertent sparks. For example, a grassfire was lit recently when a resident on East Platte Avenue flicked a cigarette butt onto his dry lawn. The flames crept up the side of his house pretty quickly.

"This goes for cigarettes, barbecuing, starting a lawnmower — anything that throws sparks, you've got to be cognizant," Vaughan says.

For unsheltered folks trying to stay warm this winter, this is the fire code that applies to outdoor fires, provided by CSFD. Included as a link at the bottom is the fire code pertaining to other types of burns. 


When the CSFD Engines or Trucks respond to an outside fire investigation, the parameters our Company Officers work from are as follows:

Fire Code 302: Recreational Fires are extinguished if the fire falls outside of the following guidelines established by the 2009 National Fire Code

Fires which are not contained in a permanent fixture (incinerator, BBQ, outdoor fireplace)

·         Fire cannot be larger than 3 feet in diameter

·         Fire cannot be higher than 2 feet in flame length

·         Fire cannot be within 25 feet of any combustible (homes, tents, trees, bushes, trash)

·         Fire cannot be unattended: sleeping next to the fire is considered “unattended”. Person must be lucid and awake during burning

·         Fire must have means of extinguishment (water, sand, dirt)

·         Fire cannot burn any other fuels except wood or charcoal

Fires contained in an approved fire appliance (store-bought) have the following guidelines:

·         Fire cannot burn any other fuels except wood or charcoal

·         Fire cannot be unattended: sleeping next to the fire is considered "unattended".  Person must be lucid and awake during fire

·         Must have means of extinguishment (water, sand, dirt)

·         Fire cannot be within 15 feet of combustibles or structures. Exception: when the fire is on the premise of one and two-family dwellings the code allows it to be within 15 feet of combustibles or structure

The Colorado Springs Fire Department is partnering with the Colorado Springs Police Department and City of Colorado Springs on the issue of recreational fires in the City.  Collectively, we continue to educate all involved parties to the 2009 National Fire Code and its guidelines surrounding recreational fires, how the CSFD responds, and what occurs when companies arrive on the scene.

The CSFD also urges everyone in our community to carefully read the following link containing specific guidelines and code for all types of burning:

https://csfd.coloradosprings.gov/outdoor-burning-guidelines 

The following link is a simple, quick reference guide with pictures:

https://csfd.coloradosprings.gov/sites/csfd.coloradosprings.gov/files/outdoor_burning_guide_011117_web.pdf


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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Deadline for insurance enrollment fast approaching

Posted By on Tue, Jan 9, 2018 at 2:11 PM

click image HEALTHCARE COSTS
  • Healthcare Costs

You have until Friday, Jan. 12, to sign up for health insurance through Connect for Health Colorado, the state marketplace set up by the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Plans purchased between now and then will go into effect Feb. 1. After that, you can only access the exchange if you experience a "life-changing event," like marriage, divorce, having a child, losing employer-sponsored insurance or moving to Colorado. So, if you're an individual who isn't covered by an employer or government-sponsored plan and you haven't selected a plan through the exchange, then chop chop! Here's the link.

By the way, you may have heard the President's claims that the new federal tax cuts "repealed Obamacare." In fact, all they did was repeal the provision requiring all Americans be covered. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates 13 million fewer people will be insured as a result of the individual mandate repeal, but other parts of the ACA, or Obamacare, including the state marketplaces and premium subsidies, remain intact. Even though you won't face a tax penalty for not having coverage, health insurance is still a pretty good way to avoid medical bankruptcy.

Over 158,000 Coloradans have already signed up through the exchange so far this year. That's a 2 percent greater enrollment rate than last year, despite all the regulatory uncertainty caused by Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill. (Recall, in the end, the majority party in Congress ended up failing to deliver on its central campaign promise of "repealing and replacing Obamacare." They did succeed in making the price of insurance skyrocket.)

As the Indy has previously reported, most consumers still stand to save an average of 20 percent on premiums this year because tax credits will rise proportionately. There are a number of coverage options in this region, so it's important to compare costs, benefits and other factors.
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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Drake deadline doesn't move, but Utilities board takes steps toward early closure

Posted By on Tue, Dec 19, 2017 at 10:54 AM

FILE PHOTO
  • file photo
On Monday, the Colorado Springs Utilities Board, whom you may recognize as City Council, made a move on the Martin Drake Power Plant that's sure to bring mixed reactions. They didn't move the plant's current closure date — no later than 2035 — any earlier, but they did direct Utilities staff to continue, and in some cases hasten, the groundwork for early closure possible.

Pick up a copy of the Indy tomorrow for a more complete look at the history, context and impact of the Drake debate, but for now, here's the short version.

The board set the 2035 date in 2015, the same year new technology, costing $178 million dollars, began removing sulfur dioxide from the plant's emissions. Utilities says those scrubbers work really well, but environmentalists and other concerned citizens believe the byproducts of coal burning, including emissions and waste, are harmful to public health.

Then, in April 2017, municipal elections brought in new city councilors/board directors, including Richard Skorman of District 3 and Yolanda Avila of District 4, who are interested in an earlier retirement. As soon as possible is their preference. (David Geislinger, of District 2, is also interested but less avid about that earlier date.)

In addition to shifting electoral sands, the pace of downtown development — particularly the urban renewal in the southwest — puts pressure on the board to clear the way for redevelopment of the Drake site, which sits at the desirable confluence of Interstate 25, Highway 24 and Fountain Creek.

In May, Utilities staff presented the board with potential timelines for decommissioning Drake and scenarios for how to replace its generation. Both 2030 and 2025 emerged as candidates for the deadline, though anytime between 2025 and 2035 is feasible. As for life after Drake, the possibilities boiled down to: Power from inside the city; power from outside the city; or some combination of the two.

Debate about what to do brought immense public participation. (Yes, 200 town hall attendees and about 300 emails counts as immense in Colorado Springs.) Various perspectives were aired, but to summarize: Those who want Drake closed cited health, environment, downtown aesthetics, economic development and image/reputation, while those who want Drake open cited low rates, minimal pollution and consistency.

"We are a split city," Geislinger commented at Monday's marathon meeting.

Utilities staff recommended the board go a route that includes distributed generation (small, high-efficiency natural gas generators and/or on-site solar panels throughout the city) and imported electricity from a regional transmission group (RTO), which is a multi-state power grid that provides transmission to member utilities. That means no new generation at Drake and the closing of Birdsall Power Plant, an inefficient gas-fired plant off North Nevada Avenue that's only used during peak demand. Staff didn't recommend a date, saying anytime 2025 or later is doable.

The board didn't need much convincing to take that route.

"We can always adjust with [this scenario]," director Don Knight noted. "It keeps all the options open."

There was no motion to set a deadline, as all the directors were more or less on the same page that they needed more information before making a final decision. Although some directors, like Knight, Andy Pico and Merv Bennett, would be content sticking with 2035, they're open to expediting if it makes good fiscal sense. Others, like Skorman, Avila and Geislinger, want their colleagues to look at costs other than just fuel, capital and operations.

"We should be careful not to be too pennywise and pound foolish on this," Skorman advised.

Variables the board would like to better understand:
• What exactly would be available through the RTO;
• how will technology and market demand change the math on renewables;
• how polluted is the Drake site;
• what's the value of the land Drake sits on;
• what's the potential for economic development;
• and how could the 2020 election affect emissions regulations and energy subsidies?

To move the ball down the court, the board directed staff to accelerate the construction of a transmission line needed to keep downtown lights on when Drake turns off. With the help of a hired consultant, that should be done in 2023. It's estimated to cost $26 million, with an estimated .25 percent incremental rate impact spread over three years.

The board also gave a tentative thumbs up on the RTO, directing Utilities leadership to keep talking with the Mountain West Transmission Group about potentially joining in 2019. That membership isn't final, though.

Next, the board told staff to move ahead on an environmental assessment and appraisal to find the land's salvage value.

Lastly, the board directed staff to hasten the next Electric Integrated Resource Plan (EIRP) — a study of Utilities' future needs done every five years, as mandated by federal law. The EIRP is due in February 2022, but Utilities will aim to have it done by the end of 2020.

Approval of those motions was unanimous, though director Bill Murray was absent.

The board was also unanimous in their concern for rising rates. The exact cost of decommissioning Drake isn't known yet, but given coal is the cheapest fuel commodity out there and replacement generation is sure to necessitate some new infrastructure, it's going to hit ratepayers in the pocketbook. So, the board discussed increasing investment in demand side management — programs designed to shave demand for electricity — and instituting a tiered pricing scheme like Utilities already does for water, meaning some users would pay higher rates.

Pico noted a committee is already studying tiered pricing for electric. "I think it has some merit," he said.

Though the board took some appreciable steps toward decommissioning the downtown coal plant, many attendees left disappointed there was no new deadline.

"In 18 years [in 2035], I'll be almost 40," said Colorado College student, Rebecca Glaser. Originally from the Bay Area, she's grown to love Colorado Springs and wants to stay after graduation. "But I don't want to raise my future children in the shadow of that plant. ... Many [graduating students] like me will leave. We want to live in a city that looks to the future and strives to innovate."

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Thursday, December 7, 2017

UPDATE: Venetucci farmers laid off as contaminated water spoils finances

Posted By on Thu, Dec 7, 2017 at 4:51 PM

NAT STEIN
  • Nat Stein

UPDATE: We received official statements from both the Pikes Peak Community Foundation and the Gordon/Hamilton family regarding the latter's termination as managers of Venetucci Farm. Since they're written as public letters, we'll post them in their entirety below.

Here's the statement from the foundation:

Dear Friends of Venetucci Farm,

This past year has been an uncertain period for Venetucci Farm, but it is not without its successes. The PFC contamination that affects the Widefield Aquifer continues to challenge the farm’s operations. In 2017, we focused our efforts on the pumpkin giveaway and the farm’s education programs. Thanks to Susan, Patrick, and David, the farm hosted hundreds of school children and provided more than 10,000 pumpkins to the community.


As many of you know, the farm’s principle revenue source is a water rights lease with the Security and Widefield water districts. The administrators at these districts face a herculean task to provide safe drinking water for their communities. The Venetucci wells are part of the Widefield Aquifer, and it’s not clear that the water districts can use our water without treating it for consumption. For this reason, Security and Widefield asked to suspend payment of the water rights until a sufficient filtration system can be implemented for the wells.


Learning recently of this new information, we concluded that there are two options: We can challenge the suspended payment and consume resources that would otherwise be deployed to solve the community’s water problem, or we can join forces with the water districts. We recognize that the community’s priority is safe drinking water. We chose to be good and responsible neighbors by opting to come together with the districts.


We’ve agreed to an abeyance agreement that essentially suspends any payment or challenge until we have clarity on how to remediate the water contamination crisis.


There are consequences to this decision. Without our main revenue source, we must scale back our operations on the farm. We had to eliminate Susan, Patrick and David’s positions, and reduce our operations to a caretaking role. We are working on a management plan for the farm for this year, and beyond. We offered the opportunity to Susan and Patrick to stay on the farm as caretakers until the end of June to allow for a smooth transition.


One uncertainty we face is how long it will take for the wells to become operational. This reality has pushed us to work with community leaders to find other revenue sources for the farm. Our belief is that there are opportunities for a vibrant Venetucci in the future. We are pursuing them.


Once we have a better understanding of our options, I will be in communication with you all.

In the meantime, I want to recognize the diligent work of Susan, Patrick and David. They have been shepherds of the Venetucci legacy; they have fed, educated, and cared for our community. We also have great respect for Roy Heald and Steve Wilson, the managers of the Security and Widefield water districts. They are faced with a complex task to provide safe drinking water in a true crisis.


If you have questions about the farm’s future, please feel free to contact Sam Clark at PPCF: sclark@ppcf.org or 719.445.0605.


Sincerely,

Gary Butterworth

Chief Executive Officer

And here's the statement from Susan Gordon:


Public Statement re: the Termination of my employment with PPCF


Patrick, Sarah, Clare, and I were disappointed and saddened to abruptly receive the news that we would be forced to leave Venetucci Farm, which has been our home, work, and community for the past eleven years. Honored to be tasked with preserving the Venetucci legacy, we worked tirelessly to restore the farm to health and increase its financial, ecological, and social resiliency. Produce and pumpkin sales, educational programs, and events provided diverse revenue sources and opportunities for the community to engage with the farm. Using the farm as a classroom, our educational coordinator, David Rudin, engaged thousands of school children in the natural world. We couldn’t have done any of this without the many hands and hearts that helped us along the way.


It is unfortunate that the recent water contamination by the Air Force and the subsequent decisions have resulted in an uncertain future for the farm. Losing a productive farm that provides opportunity for people to connect with the land and each other is not something our community or our world can afford. While the loss of the water lease money presents a formidable challenge, it does not preclude the farm from operating as it historically did, supporting itself through diverse income streams.


Eleven years ago as we walked the farm with Bambi Venetucci, we were acutely aware of the responsibility we faced to care for the land and preserve it as a working farm. Nick and Bambi Venetucci provided an incredible gift to this community and we were honored to have been the farmers here for the past decade. We hope that our affection for and care of Venetucci Farm has honored that gift, and that those now responsible for the future of the farm will make decisions that continue to do so.


Susan Gordon



—— ORIGINAL POST: 4:51 P.M. DEC, 7, 2017 ——


It’s been bad news after bad news for Venetucci Farm over the past two years. Now there's another blow to the 200-acre working farm — farm managers Susan Gordon and Patrick Hamilton have been laid off. Production is on indefinite hold. 


Venetucci's problems began in May 2016, when the Environmental Protection Agency issued a health advisory lowering the level of perfluorinated compounds (PFCs) considered safe for human consumption. Soon after, the groundwater under Venetucci tested above that level, prompting the farm’s longtime trustee, the Pikes Peak Community Foundation (PPCF), to suspend produce sales mid-season.


Quite new in his role at the time, PPCF CEO Gary Butterworth tried to exercise an abundance of caution in the decision to stop all sales, though many loyal customers felt denied the chance to make their own judgement. (Colorado’s Chief Epidemiologist Mike Van Dyke has since found that eating Venetucci's produce, even with the highest possible PFC uptake levels, likely isn’t dangerous.)


Meanwhile, the foundation underwent some reorganization: staff were laid off; headquarters relocated; and the fiscal sponsorship program ended. Butterworth also indicated a desire to move away from land ownership. He ordered an advisory committee to seek potential plans for offloading Venetucci in a way that honored the intent of its donors, Nick and Bambi Venetucci.


Production was kept on hold through the 2017 growing season. There were murmurings that Colorado College would take ownership of the land. Those negotiations have since stalled, a CC official confirms.


Now, the municipal well on the land, located off US-85 in Security, will no longer support Venetucci’s operations as it has for over a decade. The water isn’t used to irrigate crops. (There are other wells for that, drilled back when no one else was pulling from the Widefield aquifer.) Rather, the water from this particular well is leased to nearby Security Water and Sanitation District (SWSD), Widefield Water and Sanitation District and Fountain Water District, fetching about $250,000 a year. That revenue accounts for most of the farm’s annual operating budget.

Or, it used to.

This week, the water districts entered into an abeyance, meaning they’ve moved to suspend the lease since they can’t serve contaminated water to their customers. 

Butterworth confirmed the news, emphasizing it’s for the “greater good” of the wider Security, Widefield and Fountain communities, of which Venetucci Farm is a part.



Gordon, having just been notified that the foundation is terminating her employment, is distraught. The farm is more than her work — it’s her home and her passion. She was hoping her daughter, who just completed her first season farming her own land down in Pueblo, might one day take over for her at Venetucci.

“That kind of familial continuity, I think it’s integral to good farming,” she told the Indy Thursday. “Under this vision [Venetucci] isn’t a home, it isn’t a family, it isn’t a diverse ecological community. It’s just a spreadsheet. … Yeah, I’m worried about the future.”


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Monday, December 4, 2017

Needle exchange debate by El Paso County Board of Health ends with "no" vote

Posted By on Mon, Dec 4, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Not only will there not be a needle exchange program in El Paso County soon, there probably won't be one for many years to come.

Today, Dec. 4, the El Paso County Board of Health decided not to schedule a vote on the program or hear further presentations. That means it's relegated to the trash can.
NATHAN FORGET
  • Nathan Forget

Although it was informal, the board took a straw vote in order to advise staff how to proceed.

Those expressing a desire to kill the needle exchange idea at the Dec. 4 meeting were County Commissioners Peggy Littleton and Longinos Gonzalez; retired U.S. Navy surgeon James Terbush; nurse Vicki Broerman and Doris Ralston, CEO of the Colorado Springs Osteopathic Foundation.

Voting to keep consideration alive: Manitou Springs Mayor Pro Tem Coreen Toll; Colorado Springs City Council President Richard Skorman; Kari Kilroy, executive assistant to Memorial Hospital’s CEO, and County Coroner Robert Bux.

Toll's term ends this year, and given her support of the program, it's unlikely she'll be given another term by county commissioners, who appoint the board.

Why? Because the commission voted unanimously on Nov. 30 to oppose the program. Though nonbinding, the resolution adopted by commissioners said needle exchange programs “can be seen as facilitating dangerous and destructive drug abuse” and that “government sponsored syringe exchange programs [are] not in the best interest of Colorado citizens.”

That position, which also is embraced by Sheriff Bill Elder, runs contrary to the Centers for Disease Control’s stance that such programs comprise “an effective component of a comprehensive, integrated approach to HIV prevention....” They’ve also been linked to reduced risk for infection with hepatitis C virus, CDC says, and provide a bridge to critical services and treatment for a plethora of ailments, including sexual transmitted diseases and tuberculosis.

Commissioners’ resolution, proposed by Littleton, asserted that “better enforcement, outreach and education, intervention and treatment, and other preventative measures are needed to stop the alarming increase in drug related crimes, accidents and deaths” and that without referrals to treatment program, needle exchanges are ineffective.

Most other Front Range cities have needle exchange programs in an era in which hepatitis C is spreading and opioid use is skyrocketing.

"We're done," Kilroy told the Independent after the meeting. "There's an issue of rising disease of hepatitis C and there's an issue of needles being found in our community. The state maintains that health boards approve needle exchange programs. There's really no where else for us to go."

Nothing is likely to change for years, she says, given Toll’s expiring term.

"They have already made their wishes completely known," Kilroy says of commissioners, "so it's a good bet whoever they seat would not be in favor of it."

Kilroy said the Board of Health voted 6-2 in 2013 to postpone consideration of the needle exchange program, with she and Fountain City Council member Sharon Brown voting against postponement. Those voting for postponement were then-Commissioner Sallie Clark, Broerman, Bux, C.J. Moore, then-Colorado Springs Councilor Helen Collins and Terbush. Then-Commissioner Amy Lathen was absent.


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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Planned Parenthood offers free testing for World AIDS Day

Posted By on Wed, Nov 29, 2017 at 10:02 AM

SHUTTERSTOCK.COM
  • Shutterstock.com

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 36.7 million people worldwide were living with HIV in 2016. Moreover, between the start of the pandemic and the end of 2016, AIDS-related illnesses reportedly took the lives of 35 million people worldwide, according to amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research. Many HIV-positive people, both in the U.S. and abroad, do not have access to treatment.

In order to draw attention to the virus and its effects, World AIDS Day was established in 1988 — the first global health initiative. On Dec. 1, 2017, people worldwide will be encouraged to use World AIDS Day as an opportunity to educate themselves about recent medical developments, get tested, and lend vocal support to those living with HIV/AIDS.

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains will once again participate in World AIDS Day by offering free testing at seven health centers across the state, including their Colorado Springs Center on Centennial Boulevard. The CDC claims that 15 percent of the roughly 1.1 million HIV-positive people in the U.S. are unaware of their status, so getting tested may mean discovering the virus early enough to mitigate its prevalence.

To learn more about where and how to get tested in the state of Colorado, see the full release from Planned Parenthood below.

DENVER, CO— On December 1, 2017, in recognition of World AIDS Day, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) will continue their commitment to raising awareness of HIV and AIDS across their four-state region. Complimentary testing will be available at seven health centers throughout the day.

“As a leader in the field of HIV prevention, PPRM is committed to implementing and expanding access to HIV testing and PrEP services. PPRM recognizes this unique moment in time where on this World AIDS Day 2017, we are in a position to help end HIV. We stand in solidarity with the communities we serve, and renew our promise to be strong allies in the fight,” said Martin Walker, Director of HIV Programs, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains.

On December 1, Planned Parenthood will offer free HIV testing at seven health centers across the organization’s four-state region. Participating sites include: Salida, Colorado Springs, Greeley in Colorado, Flamingo and Charleston in Las Vegas, and Farmington and Santa Fe, New Mexico.

This is the fifth consecutive year PPRM will participate in this campaign. PPRM works tirelessly to train current and new volunteers to be able to provide HIV education and testing which increases PPRM’s capacity to serve every patient who seeks an answer to their HIV status.

For more information about the program and testing locations, telephone 1.800.230.PLAN, visit us online at pprm.org.

Disclosure: Alissa Smith, the Indy's Culture and Calendar Editor, volunteers with Planned Parenthood as a Health Center Activist.

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Local organizations gather to provide support during Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Posted By on Mon, Oct 23, 2017 at 9:35 AM

healthy_2_.png

Monique Walker, life coach, mother, medical student and speaker, knows what it's like to live in isolation due to domestic violence. In 2014, she fled an abusive household with her six children, settling in Colorado Springs where she found the support she needed to take control of her life once again. Now, she hopes to provide the same kind of support to others or, at the very least, ensure that others know that there is support available to them.

“Let’s have a serious community conversation,” she says. “It’s not just a Monique Walker issue. It’s a community issue.”

Healthy Family Ties: “An Overdue Conversation” will take place at Library 21c on Friday, Oct. 27. Organized by Walker and various local organizations, the event is meant to draw attention to the issue of domestic violence in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and to gather supportive organizations under one roof.

Walker says that, when she began her journey, she found that the resources available to her were “fragmented,” making them difficult to navigate. With this event, she hopes to ease the process for others. “You never know whose life it may save,” she says. “[This] will give people the opportunity to recognize that even though there’s fragments that help within the community, there is help.”

During the event, in addition to providing information about programs and services, these organizations will lead self-awareness and self-defense training “for community empowerment.”

Walker hopes that offering this event to the community will not only help individuals, but perhaps highlight the seriousness of the issue of domestic violence for those that have not been directly affected.

She says: “If we all get on the same page as a community, and know that there are resources, hopefully it will help some people open their eyes.”


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