Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien asks about a bevy of issues Thursday afternoon with community members at the Moffat County School District Administration building. Issues ranged from education to health care and the problems that rural, remote towns like Craig face in regards to those issues.

Photo by Jerry Raehal

Colorado Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien asks about a bevy of issues Thursday afternoon with community members at the Moffat County School District Administration building. Issues ranged from education to health care and the problems that rural, remote towns like Craig face in regards to those issues.

Agencies voice need for funding

— They came, they listened and they spoke.

Representatives from five local agencies and organizations gave the state's second-highest ranking official much to ponder Thursday at a town hall meeting at the Moffat County School District administration building.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O'Brien and her chief of staff, Bruce Atchison, met with officials from The Memorial Hospital, Colorado Northwestern Community College, Moffat County School District, Craig City Council and the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, all of whom had plenty to talk about in 45 minutes.

"We came to see how local and state government can work together. Even though I know the state can be a thorn in your side sometimes," O'Brien said. "I know what it's like to deal with the state, but also local governments need help sometimes with the bold initiatives they want to pursue."

She and Atchison wanted to hear what barriers Moffat County had to their goals, and what they could do to help from the state level.

Those in attendance had one unified answer: funding.

"Colorado has not done what it needs to do to fund health care, education, transportation," said Jo Ann Baxter, Moffat County School Board president. "And until we figure out what to do in that sense we're all going to be begging for more money."

O'Brien recognized the difficulty in making funding possible given Colorado's current tax structure under the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. She did not present a concrete solution for or give assurances that funding would be found in the near future.

"No, it's really hard," O'Brien said. "What governor Ritter is asking is that people find creative solutions in their communities to address these problems. We also know at some point down the road, there needs to be a solution to these issues."

Ritter's administration is looking specifically at how to better finance transportation needs, health care and higher education, O'Brien said.

O'Brien also wanted to hear about how different community organizations cooperated with each other and city and county government.

Ann Irvin, VNA supervisor/home visitor, said the community does a good job working together, with one exception.

The VNA "works with every organization in town, and we work well with them, except (Moffat County) Social Services," Irvin said.

Others attending echoed her sentiment.

Matt Harris, Social Services child welfare supervisor, was confused at the statement.

"I don't know if they're talking about something recent or historically," Harris said. "One of the things we're working on is trying to work with other agencies and learning what they can and can't do and sharing what we can and can't do.

"We are making larger efforts to notify (other) parties of the limited information we can give them in the case of an investigation or something like that," he added.

Carol Sharp, of the VNA, attributed that back to the Moffat County Commissioner's lack of oversight.

"I'm saying this personally, not professionally, but when the county needs something, they voice it and there's no support," Sharp said.

The commissioners find it hard to put their opinions out into the public and lead the community, School District Superintendent Pete Bergman said.

"They stay as neutral as they possibly can, and that results in what seems to be a lack of leadership," he said.

Baxter felt similarly, and said she was puzzled about what the commissioners are thinking in terms of the future.

"The county commissioners are a bit of an enigma for most of us," she said. "We find it very difficult to deal with them when they don't want to come out and support something. All I'll say is they're extraordinarily careful."

County Commissioner Tom Gray does not feel it is the job of the Board of County Commissioners to try and influence voters. Gray and County Commissioner Saed Tayyara ran on a platform of not raising taxes, and that means the voters do not want their commissioners to be asking them for more money, Gray said.

"As a board, it's been our policy to not take a position to support or not support" tax initiatives, Gray said. "We encourage voters to get as much information as they can. We do support the voters being able to choose whatever position they feel.

"We manage the county, as the voters elected us to do, and we want to let the voters decide for themselves. That does not mean we won't personally support something, or even campaign for something if we wanted to."

Health care issues dominated most of the meeting. The county simply needs more doctors, said Terri Jourgensen, the school district's registered nurse.

"The dilemma I face at the front lines everyday from preschool to high school is the provider issue," she said. "They don't take Medicare, don't take (Colorado's Child Health Plan Plus medical insurance). If they do, all their slots are filled up.

"I've provided families at home with first aid and nursing information and asked them to see if they can make it through the weekend."

Moffat County is classified as a Health Professional Shortage Area, and in some parts, a Medically Underserved Population. This allows for incentive programs to attract new physicians, but those in attendance wanted more immediate resolutions.

"We would employ more nurses if we had funding to hire more nurses," said Sue Birch, VNA executive director.

Moffat County failed last year to become a federally funded New Access Point, a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services program to put full medical centers where there are medically underserved population.

It wasn't just Moffat County, "rural Colorado failed across the board," Birch said.

"Rural Colorado does not fit the mold for the federal government. We have a significant number of impoverished people, but they're well above the poverty line."

Part of what makes northwest Colorado's health care situation so dire is the remoteness of its communities, which is not factored into the federal approval formula, Birch said.

O'Brien said she would consider Ritter and her making a recommendation on Moffat County's behalf, and suggested the community take the problem to their congressmen as well.

After the meeting, O'Brien said she is looking to take Moffat County's concerns back to Denver.

"When I go back, we need to have meetings, and given Moffat County is rural and remote, we need to take seriously being flexible in our rules and regulations (that govern funding)," she said. "We don't want to impose a Front Range model on the Western Slope."

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