2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner
  • Website aims to help patients ‘think about’ health care safety

    Mon, October 28, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Unneeded medical procedures. Doctors prescribing the wrong medications.

    In the eyes of Donna Kusuda, these things often happen because of a simple breakdown in communication between patients and their doctors.

    “Communication is sort of at the heart of how things get missed,” Kusuda said.

    A group of health care providers and physician associations across Colorado aims to raise awareness of similar patient safety issues in the coming years. The coalition, called Think About It Colorado, offers a wide range of tips and educational tools to help patients learn how to properly navigate the health care system.

    “We want to balance raising issues that are still concerning about the safety of health care, balance that with celebrating what’s being done to improve safety,” said Kusuda, chairwoman for the board overseeing the coalition. “So the good news and the bad news, sort of thing.”

    The coalition was formed in 2010 and now focuses on the increasing number of people with access to health care through the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

    In particular, the coalition aims to help people who have never had health insurance — many of whom will begin regularly seeing a physician for the first time in their lives.

    About one in six Coloradans, or 829,000 people, went without health insurance in 2011, according to the Colorado Health Institute’s most recent count.

    Many of those people only received care in hospital emergency rooms, meaning they never learned how to talk to a doctor regularly about their health, Kusuda said.

    For example, unneeded procedures can take place when patients don’t question their doctor enough before undergoing a procedure, or when patients fail to ask their doctors the right questions.

    “Not having the accurate information is a big safety issue,” Kusuda said. “And that’s one of the things that the patient can really take charge of.”

    And that’s where the information found at Think About It Colorado’s website can come in useful, Kusuda said — providing a one-stop shop for learning how to better communicate with doctors.

    “We don’t want the issue of safety to get lost in the shuffle,” Kusuda said.

    To learn more about the coalition, visit www.thinkaboutitcolorado.org.

    EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog post has been changed to state the correct year that Think About It Colorado was formed.

  • Pikes Peak United Way embarks on listening tour

    Wed, October 16, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    The term “community dialogue” might be bandied around a lot these days.

    But in a new initiative, the Pikes Peak United Way aims to translate those conversations into action.

    The nonprofit organization is hosting dozens of small-group listening sessions as a way to help set its community impact agenda — three issues that the organization plans to help address in 2014.

    The initiative is the brainchild of Jason Wood, the nonprofit’s new chief executive, and it’s meant to help steer the community’s energy and resources in a common direction.

    Once those listening sessions are finished, Pikes Peak United Way officials plan to combine that data with the nonprofit’s upcoming Quality of Life Indicators report. After reviewing that data, officials plan to announce three main focus issues in January, said Carrie Cramm, the nonprofit’s vice president of community impact.

    “That’s the goal of these community conversations, is to hear what our community hopes for in terms of our region,” Cramm said. “…Everyone around that table, the hope is that they’d be able to bring something to move that needle. United Way will do the same.”

    So far, the organization has hosted 24 listening sessions featuring a range of participants, including the Colorado Regional Business Alliance, Big Brothers Big Sisters and Rocky Mountain PBS. Sessions were also held for University of Colorado at Colorado Springs students, a yoga group and residents at the Salvation Army’s R.J. Montgomery homeless shelter.

    At least eight more listening sessions are planned over the next few weeks, Cramm said.

    So far, a few of the topics discussed included the need for quality jobs, a better public transportation system, acceptance of diversity and more affordable housing, she said.

    Cramm admits that “community dialogue” initiatives can often lose steam, leading to a lot of talk, but little action.

    She feels this idea will be different.

    “There is a readiness for action,” Cramm said. “And if we can funnel that energy and that passion and those resources to make an impact, then that’s what were going to do.”

  • ‘Do more’ to combat mental illness, award recipient says

    Tue, October 15, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    The recent headlines depicting horrific mass shootings across the nation point to a glaring problem, Lori Jarvis-Steinwert said.

    Too often, she said, the nation fails to properly prioritize mental health care.

    “We still want to blame someone anyone for diseases that are common and sometimes curable with the right treatment and support,” said Jarvis-Steinwert, during a speech Tuesday at The Broadmoor. “From Newtown to the Navy shipyard, we’re reminded that we can — and we must — do more for those who suffer from this disease than isolation and desecration.”

    On Tuesday, Jarvis-Steinwert received the 2013 Hero of Mental Health award from AspenPointe, a nonprofit organization focusing on behavioral health care across the Pikes Peak region. The award recognizes people who have made an impact in raising awareness of mental health issues.

    In 2011, Jarvis-Steinwert became the first executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness’ Colorado Springs chapter. Ever since, she’s doubled the number of programs available by the organization, while quadrupling its budget, according to a statement by AspenPointe.

    AspenPointe officials gave the award to her at the nonprofit’s annual luncheon Tuesday. The luncheon funds AspenPointe’s Mental Health First Aid program, which features eight-hour training sessions that teach a five-step process for dealing with a mental health crisis.

    Next on Jarvis-Steinwert’s agenda: A series of forums that aim to help health care providers better serve people struggling with substance abuse and mental health issues.

    She knows that she can’t completely eradicate mental health issues across the Pikes Peak region.

    “But we can teach people how to cope and give them practical tips for the journey,” Jarvis-Steinwert added. “We can also help them take care of themselves along the way.”

  • Unsure where to find a flu shot clinic? Look no further

    Tue, October 15, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    The flu season is upon us, and public health officials are busy pushing people to get vaccinated.

    Researchers are touting a new vaccine, one that protects against four strains of the virus, rather than three. There’s also a few different ways to get the vaccine, including a nasal mist for people who are afraid of needles.

    But for some people, the biggest question isn’t whether to get vaccinated — it’s where to find a flu shot clinic.  Luckily, there’s a couple good resources to help ease that search.

    One website, vaccine.healthmap.org, lists a multitude of flu shot clinics across the region, along with phone numbers to start shopping around.

    And finally,  elpasocountyhealth.org offers information about the flu, along with more information on ways to get vaccinated.

  • Colorado’s insurance marketplace through one week: 226 plans sold

    Mon, October 14, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Shoppers looking for health insurance through Colorado’s new health insurance marketplace have until March 31 to purchase a plan.

    A couple hundred people decided not to wait.

    On Monday, Connect for Health Colorado officials released a snapshot of marketplace’s first week, announcing 226 insurance plans sold from Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, covering a total of 305 people.

    Marketplace officials set a goal of 136,000 enrollments by the end of 2014 – in other words, the marketplace’s first two open enrollment periods.

    “It was a strong start,” said Ben Davis, a marketplace spokesman. “A lot of folks are focused on enrollments, but purchasing insurance is very different than other types of Internet shopping.

    “We’ve always expected consumers to take their time….”

    Davis said he was particularly pleased with the fact that 18,174 accounts were created.

    “That’s a very strong number and a much better indicators on how successful this effort’s going to be,” Davis said.

    The marketplace was created after passage of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. It operates separately from the federal government’s health care exchange, because Colorado lawmakers opted to create their own market.

    A rush of traffic on Oct. 1 caused marketplace officials to temporarily suspend the creation of new accounts — a key means for people to purchase health care. The problem lasted a few hours, though, and few problems have been reported ever since.

    In all, the website logged 162,941 unique visitors in the marketplace’s first week.

    The website was available 97.25 percent of the time from Oct. 1 through Oct. 7, according to the statement, and web pages appeared within five seconds about 98 percent of the time that people visited the site.

    The marketplace’s two customer service centers — the largest of which is in Colorado Springs — have also been has also been busy.

    The centers logged 9,658 calls and online chat sessions with people who had questions about the marketplace.

    Callers had to wait an average of five minutes and 44 seconds to connect with someone, though a third of the calls were answered within 20 seconds, the statement said.

    Each call lasted an average of 13 minutes and 15 seconds.

    Shoppers have until Dec. 15 to purchase a plan that begins on Jan. 1, and open enrollment closes on March 31.

  • A homeless campus in 2014? Not in this budget proposal

    Tue, October 8, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Suzi Bach, wife of Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, volunteers Friday, June 1, 2012, at the Marion House Soup Kitchen in Colorado Springs. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK/The Gazette file

    Suzi Bach, wife of Colorado Springs Mayor Steve Bach, volunteers Friday, June 1, 2012, at the Marion House Soup Kitchen in Colorado Springs. Photo by CHRISTIAN MURDOCK/The Gazette file

    Amid all of Mayor Steve Bach’s proposals likely to be aired before the Colorado Springs City Council this week, don’t expect to hear one highly-touted initiative: A campus catering to the homeless.

    The concept for Sunrise Village — a one-stop shop for shelter and homeless services — remains on hold, said Aimee Cox, the city’s senior economic vitality specialist. In part, the idea lost momentum when city officials couldn’t find a site.

    “Sunrise Village was a concept, and I think that’s getting lost,” Cox said. “… It was starting a conversation. Land wasn’t immediately available. We decided that our energy at this point, given the resources available, we’d be better set building the capacity of our service providers to meet the needs of this community.”

    Bach first proposed the idea of a city-spearheaded “quantum leap” in expanded homeless services in fall 2012. Back then, Bach floated the idea of a “campus approach” to serving the homeless, along with using vacant city land for affordable housing, or repurposing some of the city’s 192 parks to help the homeless.

    In May, he unveiled his plan for Sunrise Village during a presentation before dozens of nonprofit leaders specializing in homeless services. At the time, he issued a “call to action” in seeking a building or property within a 10-minute drive of downtown.

    Then the campus idea stalled.

    City officials began reconsidering the campus concept shortly after Bach’s presentation. In July, Bach’s wife, Suzi Bach, said the city has had a difficult time finding property for a campus.

    In late September, he again floated the idea of a homeless “refuge” and a central place to connect the homeless with services during a conference on homelessness hosted by Bob Holmes, executive director of Homeward Pikes Peak

    “You’re going to hear a lot more about that by the first of the year,” Steve Bach said.

    The mayor was referring to the idea of a day center — one devoid of overnight shelter, but able to house a variety of services, Cox said. That idea is in the “research phase,” she said.

    One focus that remains: Building the city’s affordable housing capacity, city officials said.

    Steve Bach again floated the idea of using some of the city’s current underutilized or empty real estate to beef up affordable housing options.

    Opening up any new units in 2014, however, could prove difficult.

    There is a lack of builders in the Pikes Peak region willing to build low income housing projects, Cox said. Funding also appears to be tight next year.

    Bach released his proposed 2014 budget on Monday, one that projected a 15-percent cut in federal grant revenue — the city’s main source of funding for homeless initiatives.

    In the budget, city officials cited automatic federal budget cuts that began on March 1 — otherwise known as sequestration — as the reason for cuts from the Community Development Block Grant and from Home Investment Partnership Act grants. Revenue from those programs also is projected to decrease.

    In all, the city estimates it will receive $691,500 less in housing services grant revenue to spend in 2014.

    Cox stressed that the figure is an estimate, since the federal government has yet to pass a fiscal year 2014 budget, which runs from Oct. 1 through Sept. 30, 2014.

    The portion of the budget dealing with economic vitality and housing options will be discussed during a city council work session on Friday.

  • Silver Key has shortage in volunteer drivers

    Tue, October 8, 2013 by Jakob Rodgers with no comments

    Silver Key Senior Services officials say they’re experiencing a shortage of volunteer drivers, meaning fewer rides for the elderly across the Pikes Peak region.

    “We don’t have any cushion right now for our volunteer drivers, so that puts us in a real bind,” said Lorri Orwig, the nonprofit organization’s chief development officer.

    The nonprofit organization fields a large number of volunteers whose job it is to offer rides to elderly people across the region, often for medical appointments or trips to the grocery store.

    The organization typically has a driver shortage in October, Orwig said. This year, that has meant four to eight ride requests a day that have gone unmet, she said.

    It’s a relatively small number considering that the nonprofit organizes about 250 rides a day. Still, Orwig said the organization currently has little ability to backfill any rides should a volunteer cancel for illness.

    “For that one person who is not able to get to their doctors’ appointments or to the grocery store, that’s a big deal,” Orwig said.

    Anyone interested in volunteering with the organization can contact Linda Arguello at 884-2319 or by emailing her at larguello@silverkey.org.