• Springs Rescue Mission program recognized by governor’s office

    Tue, March 25, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Gazette file

    Gazette file

    A transitional housing program overseen by the Springs Rescue Mission was recognized by Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office on Tuesday for its success in helping families become self-sufficient.

    “We started it in Denver with the Denver Rescue Mission and now the Colorado Springs Rescue Mission has become the leader and the champion for the program,” said Roxane White, the governor’s chief of staff.

    White and Pat Coyle, director of the Colorado Division of Housing, visited the nonprofit Thursday, praising its work it as an example for other nonprofits to follow.

    The program grew from Hickenlooper’s “One Congregation–One Family” initiative, which paired homeless families with churches that, in turn, offered mentors to help each family find affordable housing, along with whatever challenges may arise.

    Since starting the program in 2012, the Springs Rescue Mission has acted as the intake agency in Colorado Springs by pairing families with one of nine collaborating churches.

    So far, 32 families – or 93-percent of participants who entered the program – remained in stable housing a year later, according to the nonprofit.

    “One Congregation–One Family really establishes community from the start,” White said. “It’s additional eyes and ears working with the family. It’s additional support.”

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been changed to correctly state the governor’s name.

  • PERA decides against signing off on Colorado Springs’ appeal

    Tue, March 18, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Memorial Hospital North - Gazette file

    Memorial Hospital North – Gazette file

    A bid by Colorado Springs’ attorneys to continue its fight against the Public Employees’ Retirement Association hit a bump this week.

    The state’s pension fund formally opposed the city’s request for an appeal, according to a motion filed Monday by PERA.

    The move leaves the appeal’s fate up to Harlan Bockman, a retired Adams County judge who was hired by both sides to preside over the case.

    Colorado Springs lawyers either need PERA or Bockman to sign off on the city’s request for an interlocutory appeal – a special type of appeal applying only to cases that have yet to reach a final resolution.

    Bockman ruled in February that Colorado Springs officials ignored the proper process for pulling people out of the pension fund when it leased Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health on Oct. 1, 2012.

    Specifically, city officials never sought approval from PERA’s board and didn’t seek a vote from hospital employees before pulling them out of PERA, Bockman ruled. Most importantly, the city didn’t pay any unfunded pension liabilities to PERA, he said.

    PERA has sought $190 million to cover those pension accounts, as well as interest. As of Oct. 28, that interest reached $15 million, and it continues to grow.

    But in making his ruling, Bockman never stated a monetary amount owed by the city to PERA.

    PERA’s lawyers argued in their motion Monday that the city’s request didn’t meet all the requirements needed to file an interlocutory appeal. For instance, the city’s request wouldn’t fast-track the case to a resolution, PERA lawyers argued.

    “The City’s request for interlocutory appeal will only serve as an unnecessary detour to the necessary steps needed to end this dispute and require the city to pay the funds it owes to Memorial’s retirees and vested former employees,” PERA wrote in the motion.

    PERA’s lawyers also said they plan to file a motion with the Colorado Supreme Court that would force the city to exhaust the pension fund’s administrative review process. Such a motion is meant to move the city closer toward paying PERA.

    Even if Bockman signs off on the city’s request for an appeal, the Colorado Court of Appeals must still decide whether to take the case.

  • Childhood obesity, doctor shortage highlighted in foundation listening session

    Mon, March 17, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Childhood obesity and a shortage in physicians, nurses and psychiatrists rank among the Pikes Peak region’s most pressing health care needs, members of Memorial Hospital’s board of directors said Monday.

    The board voiced those concerns during a meeting with the Colorado Springs Health Foundation’s board of directors, which is in the process of hosting a series of listening sessions across the Pikes Peak region to determine where to focus its money.

    The foundation was created as a part of University of Colorado Health’s 40-year lease of Memorial Hospital. It’s been tasked with overseeing all money paid by UCHealth to Colorado Springs, including lease payments and a $259 million down payment that remains tied up in escrow due to a legal battle over pension liabilities.

    A few other listening sessions have already been hosted by the foundation’s board of directors to gauge the region’s most pressing needs, and more are being planned for the coming weeks. Input from those meetings will be used to help the foundation focus its efforts when awarding grants across the Pikes Peak region for public health purposes.

    On Monday, Memorial’s board repeatedly voiced concerns about childhood obesity – framing it an issue that affects education and a child’s success later in life.

    “The place you can have the biggest impact is on those young children – getting them started in shape, in a way that helps them to be more fit, which makes them more attentive in class, which gives them the opportunity to learn,” said Gene Renuart, a member of Memorial Hospital’s board of directors and a retired Air Force general.

    Also, Memorial board members lamented a deep shortage on physicians, nurses and psychiatrists, as well as a lack of mental health services for people in Teller County.

    Renuart advised the foundation not to spread its money too thin by trying to help everyone at once.

    “My personal view is to pick two big ones (issues) and go for it,” Renuart said.

  • Outgoing Homeward Pikes Peak leader to open addiction recovery center

    Thu, March 13, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Bob Holmes - Gazette file

    Bob Holmes – Gazette file

    Homeward Pikes Peak’s outgoing chief will soon focus less on combating homelessness and more on helping people recover from crippling drug addictions.

    Bob Holmes plans to create a for-profit addiction recovery center called STAR-Colorado, which is expected to open April 1 at 5250 Pikes Peak Highway in Cascade, he said Thursday.

    Holmes announced his resignation last week as Homeward Pikes Peak’s chief executive after leading the nonprofit for 11 years. His last day will be March 28.

    About 45 people gave him a standing ovation Thursday during a monthly meeting of homeless service providers that Holmes has led for several years. Several people also expressed their gratitude for his work over the years.

    Homeward Pikes Peak was founded about 10 years ago to coordinate the region’s services to homeless people and transitional housing programs, which involves several nonprofits that receive federal grants. It operated under a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development mandate to streamline and coordinate federally-funded local housing programs that help homeless people segue from shelters to more permanent housing.

    The transition in leadership comes at a turbulent time for the nonprofit, which closed the Aztec Motel – a transitional housing program that ended in November amid deep funding woes. A new initiative that Holmes envisioned to take its place – a transitional housing program for mothers in rehab – has yet to materialize.

    Also, the nonprofit gave up its oversight duties due to the fact it was operating as a direct service provider – a conflict of interest for an agency assigned to coordinate regional services.

    After the meeting, Holmes attributed his resignation to a few factors, including his long tenure at the nonprofit and the shift in Homeward Pikes Peak’s mission from oversight agency to one solely providing services and support to people in need.

    “It was a good time for me to depart – and very positively,” Holmes said.

    Holmes new program is a 30-day treatment center that can house up to 16 people who could receive treatment from a staff of clinicians including a physician, a physician’s assistant and a dietitian, he said. Catered meals will be offered 12 times a week, and clients can participate in daily yoga sessions.

    “We want to put out an array of techniques for people to cope – not only with their addictions, but to find out what the triggers are for addictions, and then to find out what caused the triggers,” Holmes said. “We’re working back.”

  • Possible health insurance plan extensions worry Colorado exchange officials

    Wed, March 12, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Customer representatives answer phone calls Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, at the Colorado Springs call center for Connect for Health Colorado. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    Customer representatives answer phone calls Tuesday, Oct. 22, 2013, at the Colorado Springs call center for Connect for Health Colorado. (The Gazette, Christian Murdock)

    The head of Colorado’s health insurance exchange voiced concern this week about the prospect of thousands of Coloradans keeping their old, pre-Obamacare insurance plans for an additional two years.

    “It’s a big deal, and will significantly impact us depending upon how it gets rolled out,” said Patty Fontneau, the exchange’s chief executive, during an exchange board meeting.

    Colorado insurance regulators have yet to decide whether health insurance companies can continue offering customers the opportunity to renew plans that don’t fit the requirements of the Affordable Care Act.

    The White House opened the door last week for states to adopt such an extension, though regulators must sign off on the concept for it to take affect in Colorado. State officials said they are unsure about the exact dates that the White House approved for the extension, said Vince Plymell, a division spokesman.

    “It’s not quite clear,” Plymell said. “So that’s one of the reasons we’re still looking at it.”

    The extension re-opens on a politically-charged issue that erupted last fall when millions of Americans received cancellation notices from their insurance companies, despite President Barack Obama’s promise that people could keep their policies under the health law.

    To diffuse the fallout, Obama allowed insurance companies the chance to extend those plans — which typically have far fewer benefits, but also lower price tags — for one year. Regulators in about half the states signed off on that change.

    Colorado regulators went a slightly different route by allowing a practice called “early renewal,” meaning that customers could keep their old plans for an extra year as long as they extended those policies before Jan. 1.

    As of Jan. 13, 335,484 Coloradans had been affected by cancellation letters, and about 92 percent of them were offered “early renewal,” according to the Colorado Division of Insurance.

    Regulators do not know how many customers chose to keep their old plans by renewing early, said Marguerite Salazar, Colorado’s insurance commissioner. She added, though, that one major carrier reported one-third of its customers who received letters took the “early renewal” option.

    The ability for customers to keep their old plans “absolutely hit” Connect for Health Colorado, because officials were expecting people whose plans were cancelled to consider exchange-based plans, Fontneau said.

    At least one board member overseeing the exchange also voiced concern this week over the prospect of Colorado insurance regulators extending those old insurance plans.

    If allowed, the marketplace’s customer pool would be smaller, said Steve ErkenBrack, an exchange  board member and the president of Rocky Mountain Health Plans. It also could keep out people off the exchange who appear to be healthier, because they have passed insurance underwriters’ muster in the past, he said.

    “The longer it takes to get them into our pool, the longer it’s going to take to get the benefit of a broader, healthier population that’s going to lower rates for everybody,” Erkenbrack said.

  • PERA faces deadline to make move in Memorial pension dispute

    Thu, March 6, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Gazette file

    Gazette file

    The next move in the high-stakes dispute over Memorial Hospital pension liabilities rests with lawyers for the state’s pension fund.

    The Public Employees’ Retirement Association has until March 17 to respond to Colorado Springs’ motion seeking an appeal in the case, according to Adam Franklin, the pension fund’s general counsel.

    The deadline highlights the unique path that Colorado Springs took in the case when it decided to contest a private judge’s ruling in February that sided with the pension fund.

    Harlan Bockman, a retired Adams County judge who had been hired by each side to oversee the case, ruled on February 11 that Colorado Springs officials ignored the proper process for pulling people out of the pension fund when it leased Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health on Oct. 1, 2012.

    Specifically, city officials never sought approval from PERA’s board and didn’t seek a vote from hospital employees before pulling them out of PERA. Most importantly, the city didn’t pay any unfunded pension liabilities to PERA, the judge said.

    PERA has sought $190 million to cover those pension accounts, as well as interest. As of Oct. 28, that interest reached $15 million, and it continues to grow.

    But in making his ruling, Bockman never stated a monetary amount owed by the city to PERA.

    Contending that Bockman’s ruling wasn’t the final say in this case, city attorneys filed an interlocutory appeal – a type of appeal reserved for cases that have yet to be decided by a judge or jury.

    For the appeal to move to the Colorado Court of Appeals, city attorneys must either get PERA or Bockman to sign off on their request. Should PERA decline to cooperate by the March 17 deadline, then Bockman could still allow the appeal to move forward.

    Even if PERA or the judge signs off on the city’s request for appeal, the Court of Appeals must still accept the case.

    Earlier this week, Franklin declined to say whether PERA was leaning one way or another, though he added in a follow-up statement that he was “disappointed” the city chose to fight Bockman’s ruling.

    “The City continues to try and shift their financial obligation to other local governments and their employees across Colorado,” said Franklin, in his statement of the appeal. “This tactic will further delay the resolution of this matter and substantial interest will continue to accrue on the amount due to PERA.”

  • Healthgrades again ranks Penrose-St. Francis in top 50

    Wed, February 26, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    penrose pic

    Gazette file

    HealthGrades once again named Penrose-St. Francis to its list of 50-best hospitals in the nation – the seventh consecutive year the hospital system has received the award, the website announced this week.

    The distinction comes about a month after Penrose-St. Francis earned a Magnet designation from the American Nurses Credentialing Center’s Magnet Recognition Program.

    “I think it speaks to the quality and commitment of Penrose-St. Francis to serve the Colorado Springs and greater southern Colorado community with only the best,” said Margaret Sabin, the hospital system’s chief executive.

    The hospital system has a variety of initiatives on tap for 2014.

    Penrose-St. Francis recently began a new master planning process – a process that could take up to a year, Sabin said. It will also open a new hybrid surgical room – one that should allow surgeons to operate using much smaller incisions, said Chris Valentine, a hospital spokesman.

    The sixth floor of St. Francis Medical Center’s will feature a new inpatient orthopedic center beginning sometime this summer, which should feature 32 beds. And the Penrose Cancer Center will feature a new linear accelerator for radiation treatments.

    Also, the hospital will continue to seek a Level I trauma designation from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Its formal application to the state could be submitted in late 2014 or early 2015, Sabin said.

    “If we continue on the trajectory we’re on, it’s very possible by the end of the year that we could qualify,” Sabin said. “… There’s only so much trauma so I don’t know that that would continue. But we have seen robust growth in our trauma program.”

    Hospital systems continually seek such acclamations for their work, though health care experts have long debated how much weight consumers should place on each ranking system.

    For example, a 2010 study led by a University of Michigan fellow found that only eight hospitals appeared on the top-50 hospital lists of two major sources – HealthGrades and U.S. News & World Report.

  • Colorado Springs Health Foundation works on vision for future

    Tue, February 25, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Ricardo Munoz of RMS Sign Co. puts a new banner bearing the University of Colorado Health logo over an existing Memorial Hospital sign Aug. 28, 2012 after it was announced that Colorado Springs voters had voted Tuesday to lease the city-owned hospital to University of Colorado Health (Gazette File)

    Ricardo Munoz of RMS Sign Co. puts a new banner bearing the University of Colorado Health logo over an existing Memorial Hospital sign Aug. 28, 2012 after it was announced that Colorado Springs voters had voted Tuesday to lease the city-owned hospital to University of Colorado Health (Gazette File)

    The people overseeing a foundation established through Memorial Hospital’s lease met Tuesday to discuss what direction the foundation should take as it doles money from the deal.

    The Colorado Springs Health Foundation’s board of directors drafted vision and mission statements in a meeting aimed at providing the foundation some direction in the years ahead.

    They settled on an preliminary vision of making “El Paso and Teller counties the healthiest in Colorado.”

    Their draft mission statement read: “The Colorado Springs Health Foundation funds immediate health care needs and invests in long-term community health.”

    The board met hours before word emerged of an appeal filed by Colorado Springs attorneys in a dispute with the Public Employees’ Retirement Association – a case that could have far-reaching impacts over the foundation’s future.

    The foundation was created to handle all money received from University of Colorado Health during its 40-year lease of Memorial Hospital, a city-owned hospital. It is supposed to grant that money out across the Pikes Peak region for public health initiatives.

    The city initially received $259 million in the deal, but that money was immediately placed in an escrow account while the PERA case remained open.

    Of that total, $185 million was specifically set aside for any possible pension liabilities from the case. PERA claims it is owed $190 million, plus interest – a tab that reached $15 million in late October, and it continues to grow.

    During the meeting, board members occasionally lamented the difficulty of trying to create a mission statement when so much about the foundation’s finances remained unknown.

    Either way, they’ll have some money to work with.

    Jon Medved, the board’s president, pointed out that even if PERA wins the case, UCHealth must still pay $5 million a year for the 40-year lease – meaning money for the foundation.

    “So it will grow,” Medved said.

    The vision and mission statements will be vetted during the board’s listening sessions, which are being held across El Paso and Teller counties to gauge the biggest public health needs.

    The last session was held Feb. 17 in Calhan – an event that highlighted the town’s severe lack of medical services, board members said.

    “They just don’t get care until it’s really bad,” said Lynette Crow-Iverson, a foundation board member who also is president and chief executive of Conspire!.

    More listening sessions are being scheduled across the region, with board members using that input to decide where the foundation should focus its attention.

    Jon Medved, the board’s president, plans to submit final vision and mission statements to City Council for approval in the spring.

    He expressed hope during Tuesday’s meeting that the board would have a clearer picture of its finances by that time.

    “It’s no surprise – we all want to know how much money we want to have,” Medved said.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: A quote in this article regarding health care was attributed to the wrong person, and it should have been attributed to Lynette Crow-Iverson, a foundation board member who also is president and chief executive of Conspire!.

  • Updated Yellow Book for seniors hits shelves

    Mon, February 24, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    An updated booklet aimed at helping seniors across the Pikes Peak region has been released.

    The Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments has updated its Yellow Book – offering seniors more information on at least 800 services across the Pikes Peak region, the agency announced.

    About 25,000 copies have been distributed across the region, featuring phone numbers and information on bevy of topics, including caregiver services, nursing homes and activities for seniors.

    While the book is aimed at people ages 65 and older, it also may come in handy for people unexpectedly placed in the position of caring for their parents, said Jason Wilkinson, the agency’s spokesman.

    “There are several services out there – services we don’t necessarily think about until we get in that position, or have a loved one who’s in that position,” Wilkinson said.

    Unsure where to find it? Call the agency’s Senior Information and Assistance Hotline at 471-2096, or try these locations:

    -Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences, 4863 N. Nevada Ave.

    -Penrose Library, 20 N. Cascade Ave.

    -East Library, 5550 N. Union Blvd.

    -Evans Army Hospital on Fort Carson

    -Housing Authority of Colorado Springs, 335 S. Wahsatch Ave.

    -Silver Key Senior Services, 2250 Bott Ave.

    -Colorado Springs Senior Center, 1514 N. Hancock Ave.

    -Social Security Administration, 1049 N. Academy Blvd.

    -Voyages, 1460 Garden of the Goads Road

    -Golden Circle Nutrition Program, 104 E. Platte Ave.

    -El Paso County Citizens Service Center, 1675 W. Garden of the Gods Road

    -Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, 14 S. Chestnut St.

  • Event in Colorado Springs aims to help people purchase health insurance

    Thu, February 20, 2014 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    A screenshot of the Connect for Health Colorado website.

    A screenshot of the Connect for Health Colorado website.

    People who have yet to purchase health insurance for 2014 might be able to find a little help Friday from guides associated with the state’s new exchange.

    An event focusing on how to enroll in a health insurance plan will be held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments’ office, 14 S. Chestnut St.

    Guides associated with the agency and with Connect for Health Colorado will be on hand at the event to answer questions about navigating the exchange, and about how to compare plans.

    Coloradans have until March 15 to purchase a health insurance plan on the exchange, if they want their coverage to begin on April 1.

    The deadline to apply for coverage later in 2014 is March 31. Most people who go without health care coverage after that date face a fine of $95 or 1 percent of their annual income – whichever is greater.

    Another event will be held on March 14.

    To talk to a health coverage guide at the Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments, call 471-2096 or email queries to forhealth@ppacg.org