El Paso County to add Southeast facility 

Relief money budgeted for Public Health location

click to enlarge Federal coronavirus relief funding may mean easier access to county services. - REGAN FOSTER
  • Regan Foster
  • Federal coronavirus relief funding may mean easier access to county services.

Residents in Southeast Colorado Springs may finally have easy access to El Paso County services, thanks to an infusion of cash from federal coronavirus relief funding.

The county will receive $125 million from legislation passed by Congress in March. Of that funding, $4 million was budgeted for an El Paso County Public Health facility in the community.

“Public Health is requesting the ability to have a permanent presence in Southeast El Paso County to service that community that is hard-hit from … COVID-19 — not just the public health side of things, but the economic side of things — and [we] want to make sure that we get a presence down in that area of town,” County Controller Nikki Simmons told the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners at a May 19 meeting.

It’s unclear where that presence would be, or what it would look like. County spokesperson Ryan Parsell tells the Indy that the money would need to be spent by Dec. 30, and couldn’t just be designated under a contract. That’s a short timeline for the department.

Neither the county nor Public Health could provide details about which services would be offered at the facility, or potential locations, before the Indy’s deadline.

For a while now, the Southeast’s City Councilor Yolanda Avila has been pushing for a “one-stop service center” where her constituents could access workforce opportunities and benefits without making the trek to the Department of Human Services’ location on Garden of the Gods Road.

County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez also represents the Southeast and says the commissioners support using the federal relief funding to add a Public Health facility.

“We’re going to let Public Health look into it,” he says. “That’s why we provided a dollar amount, so it gives them the flexibility to see what they can do — and we, you know, we’re encouraging them to find a place that makes sense.”

In past discussions, though, Avila says she’s gotten “lip service” from county commissioners and staff regarding a county facility in the area.

“There’s just a resistance to putting the services where they are needed,” she says.

El Paso County Public Health recently added a satellite location on Fountain Boulevard in the Southeast where residents can apply for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits to offset expenses for low-income pregnant women, new mothers and their children.

But some of the health department’s other programs, such as its family planning and immunization clinics, aren’t available there. Neither are in-person applications for benefit programs managed by the Department of Human Services, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Child Care Assistance Program.

If a resident of Southeast Colorado Springs needed to travel to the office to apply in person for those benefits — say, from South Academy Boulevard and Chelton Road — it would take them over an hour to get to DHS’ Garden of the Gods office by bus.

That just doesn’t make sense, Avila says.

“The bottom line is that we need to have a service center [smack] dab in the middle of Southeast,” she says, “because that’s where the need is.”

Overall, the $4 million for the new Southeast facility is a relative drop in the bucket, considering El Paso County is spending $84.4 million in coronavirus relief funding on its own departmental needs. The health department gets $8.3 million of that, including $4 million for the Southeast facility.

Public Health plans to spend another $4 million to cover increased staffing and supplies needed to respond to COVID-19. The rest is budgeted for bolstering communications around the virus, plus mental and behavioral health needs for staff and community members.

“The COVID-related downturn, that’s going to affect the entire county,” Gonzalez says, “but I think the Southeast is an area which could greatly benefit from a satellite or extension location.”


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Latest in Local News

More by Faith Miller

All content © Copyright 2020, The Colorado Springs Independent

Website powered by Foundation