Area healthcare issues outlined

Education, infrastructure, mental healthcare needs top priorities

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More education, more infrastructure, and better mental healthcare assistance topped a wish list from Moffat County during a statewide videoconference Wednesday night.

Some 17 communities, including Craig, took part in the Caring for Colorado Foundation's videoconference to help the organization make funding recommendations.

Betsy Blair, performance improvement director for The Memorial Hospital in Craig, said this area needs funding for the education of healthcare professionals to help alleviate the area's shortage and funding for infrastructure, such as the new hospital and an ambulance garage.

Blair also spoke of the loss of Valley View Manor and its impact on the Visiting Nurse Association and TMH. She summarized the impact of state budget cuts on the local healthcare community, saying, "It's been a crisis in Moffat County."

Blair said Moffat County also needs funding for a dental care facility for indigent patients.

Indigent patients, however, aren't the only ones needing help with dental coverage. Blair said no dentist in Craig accepts Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates from the government.

Blair also said a lack of inpatient mental health services is becoming a crisis in the area. Psychiatric patients in Craig who need hospitalization must be transferred to other facilities in the state. She said when these facilities are at capacity, patients sometimes have to be staged in detox beds at the Public Safety Center, awaiting admission.

Blair said she hoped the foundation would help influence decisions on health policy issues at the state level.

Healthcare representatives at each of the conference locations got a chance to speak to the foundation's officials about where grant money is most needed.

The foundation awarded grants in 2002 totaling $6.9 million, according to the foundation's 2002 annual report. The Independent Life Center in Craig was awarded $33,320 to purchase a wheelchair-accessible van to transport people with disabilities to healthcare appointments and therapy. The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association received $40,000 to expand the availability of women's health services for working poor and indigent women.

Statewide concern for dental care prompted the foundation in 2002 to begin a five-year, $5 million dollar oral healthcare grant program.

When Blair finished her presentation Wednesday, Caring for Colorado CEO Chris Wiant said it was a "sobering report" on the disarray of the healthcare system in Colorado and the nation.

Many of the represented communities spoke of the need for funding for mental health services.

Wiant said the foundation is involved with eight other organizations, which have convened a study of mental health needs of Coloradoans.

The foundation hopes to identify how best to target its funding in that area.

All of the communities represented discussed state budget cuts, which have resulted in staff and equipment shortages, and discontinuation of programs.

Wiant said while the foundation is strictly limited in its ability to lobby for policy changes, it has joined The Colorado Trust and Rose Community Foundation to create The Colorado Health Institute, which will be a resource for objective data on health issues to help legislators make good policy decisions.

Jeremy Browning can be reached at 824-7031 or jbrowning@craigdailypress.com.

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