November 29, 2004

Colorado Springs Medical Briefs: November 26, 2004

Colorado Springs residents will have additional health insurance opportunities because of an alliance between Grand Junction-based Rocky Mountain Health Plans and Memorial Hospital. Rocky Mountain has signed an exclusive agreement with Memorial Hospital to be the acute-care provider for all Rocky Mountain commercial members (including those who purchase insurance coverage directly from the health plan and those who purchase through an employer) in the El Paso and Teller counties.

The members also will have access to Memorial Hospital's medical network of more than 500 physicians. I think the true benefit of the partnership between Rocky Mountain Health Plans and Memorial Hospital is the fact this will provide another option for health care benefit plans for everyone in our community, said John Suits, administrator of business development for Memorial Hospital. Rocky Mountain Health Plans is well known for their innovative approach to controlling costs for their members while providing access to the highest possible level of health care.

Rocky Mountain Health Plans is well-known on the Western Slope with 40 percent of the market. A group of physicians founded Rocky Mountain in 1974 in Grand Junction as a Medicaid health maintenance organization. In 1977, it expanded to include commercial and individual customers. In the 1990s, the health plan expanded outside the Western Slope. In 2002, the Rocky Mountain launched a preferred provider organization while diversifying its health services.

In July 2004, the fast-growing health plan provider acquired Colorado's largest third-party administrator - CNIC Health Solutions. The plan provides medical benefit plans and services to 115,000 people in Colorado.

Rocky Mountain also will sign an agreement with Wells Fargo on Feb. 1 in coordination with its high-deductible health plans and bundled products. The program is similar to health savings accounts, allowing employees a stake in their health care.

Another program, similar to a health savings account is a hybrid between regular insurance and self insurance, said Jim Swayze, vice- president and general manager of Rocky Mountain's Front Range operations.

Through Rocky Mountain's Shared Fund Program, groups of 51 or more can pay a predictable premium based on assumed claims, Swayze said. After four months, we can look back at the claims settlement, and the employer will either owe money or get money back, he said. We have more than 20 accounts signed up for that program.

Swayze said that Rocky Mountain has been the fastest growing Medicare HMO plan in every county in Colorado for the last two years. And the health plan provider has just come out with a low- cost program for Medicare customers. The Medicare Thrifty Program offers four plans, including a new $12 per month plan. We are testing the $12 plan in Denver, Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, Swayze said.

Rocky Mountain circulates more than $300 million in yearly revenue, according to a November news release. The company will maintain an office in the Springs as well. For more information, visit

Mental health community unites

Last year, eight Colorado health care foundations sponsored a study about the mental health care crisis in Colorado. The Status of Mental Health Care in Colorado found that only one-third of Coloradoans who need mental health services receive treatment.

Four of the eight foundations represented decided, based on the study, to pool resources to address access issues and the non- integration of systems intercepting those who need mental health care. The Caring for Colorado Foundation, the Colorado Trust, the Denver Foundation and HealthONE Alliance each contributed toward a $4.125 million total to fund an initiative to improve the integration and coordination of mental health care services in the state.

Mental health services are fragmented for people already in systems like criminal justice, the Department of Social Services, schools, the medical community and community mental health centers, said Carol Breslau, the vice-president for initiatives for Colorado Trust. The non-integration of these services leads to poor mental health outcomes.

Breslau said that because of growing needs and shrinking resources Colorado is not mental health friendly. We are severely under-funded in Colorado, Breslau said. And we've created silos of care where individual providers don't have opportunities to talk to one another. Our primary focus is on integrating care within the public system - addressing the most serious of mental health issues.

Breslau said there is a search under way to hire a project coordinator. Requests for Proposals (RFPs) will be released this spring and those organizations interested in applying can send an e- mail to [email protected] Organizations applying for part of the $4-plus million must be interested in addressing ways to integrate and coordinate private and public entities to improve mental health care access and outcomes in Colorado.

Memorial's young patients have bright day

On Nov. 10, the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation teamed with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and entertained Memorial's pediatric patients with marionette puppets and caricature drawings.

The Starbright foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to improve the quality of life for seriously ill children and their families. June Chan is a registered nurse and the director of the 70-bed Colorado Springs Children's Hospital, which is a part of Memorial Hospital. We try to have some kind of party every major holiday for the children, Chan said.

Gail Prostrollo, the executive director of the Starlight Starbright Children's Foundation, said that Anthem is once again demonstrating its support of health care by sponsoring Starlight's Hospital Happenings program at Memorial Hospital.

Brighter days for seniors, too

El Paso County seniors will be the beneficiaries of a newly formed partnership between Penrose-St. Francis Health Services and Peak Vista Community Health Centers. Both have been offering senior services, and the partnership will coordinate those efforts to maintain a complete continuum of care.

Peak Vista will assimilate the primary care services for Penrose and Peak Vista seniors at its senior health care center on International Circle. To embrace seniors identified with both organizations and an increasingly senior population, Peak Vista will open another senior health care site shortly after the New Year at the corner of Vickers Street and Union Boulevard.

Penrose-St. Francis will continue to provide specialized services, such as the diabetes, Coumadin and foot care clinic. The partnership also will accommodate Medicare patients and other seniors searching for health care services.

Four years ago, we developed the senior health center through a generous grant from the Penrose-St. Francis Foundation to fill a void in the community that prevented many seniors from access to primary care. That funding source has expired, said Rick O'Connell, president and chief executive officer of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services. We have worked diligently to identify other community resources in order to ensure primary care for our senior citizens. Peak Vista has answered that call.

B.J. Scott, president and chief executive officer of Peak Vista, reiterated O'Connell's enthusiasm regarding the new partnership. While Peak Vista will be providing primary care for seniors, the total continuum of care for our patients will now be enhanced with the additional services that Penrose-St. Francis brings to the table, she said. With the opening of our new senior health clinic north soon after the first of the year, we will be able to provide a seamless transition for Penrose-St. Francis patients who require outpatient services.

Established in 1971, Peak Vista serves more than 40,000 residents in El Paso and Teller counties. Penrose-St. Francis, part of the Centura Health systems, is the largest health care system in southern Colorado.

A local eldercare company, along with area retailers and eldercare agencies, are bringing Santa to seniors. Colorado Springs' Home Instead Senior Care, the world's largest provider of non- medical home care and companionship for the elderly, has teamed with local nonprofit agencies, nursing homes and other organizations to provide gifts for area seniors.

In addition to supplying gifts, 'Be a Santa to a Senior' is designed to help stimulate human contact and social interaction for seniors who are unlikely to have guests during the holidays, said Kathryn Curry, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office serving the Colorado Springs, Monument and Woodland Park areas. Since children are often the focus of holiday festivities, we'd like to help brighten the holidays for some area seniors as well.

Prior to the holiday season, the participating local nonprofit organizations will identify financially needy and lonely seniors in the community and provide those names to Home Instead Senior Care. Starting the week of Thanksgiving, a Christmas tree, featuring ornaments with the first names of seniors and their gift requests, will be placed inside the Wal-Mart store at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard.

Holiday shoppers can pick up an ornament, bu\y the items on the list and leave everything, including the ornament, at the store. Home Instead Senior Care will enlist staff, eldercare business associates, nonprofit groups and others in the community to collect, wrap and distribute the gifts to the seniors.

If you are interested in volunteering on the citywide gift- wrapping day or know a senior in need, contact Kathryn Curry at (719) 534-0908.

Colorado slips to No. 13 in health care study

According to the United Health Foundation's 2004 study of healthy states, Colorado ranked 13th - dropping from its No. 9 spot in 2003. The state's low smoking and obesity percentages and a low percentage of children who live in poverty contributed to its top-20 standing. Fewer deaths from heart disease and cancer and a low mortality rate also figured in to the No. 13 ranking.

But insufficient access to adequate prenatal care challenges Colorado's overall state of health, according to the report.

In 2003, the number of babies delivered without receiving prenatal care was 116, which is the highest number in El Paso County in recent years, according to El Paso County Health Department statistics.

Prenatal care that occurs early in the pregnancy and at the recommended visits is one of the best ways to ensure a healthy pregnancy, Kandi Buckland, the health department's Personal & Preventive Health Service's division director. More than 24 percent of mothers reported that they did not receive prenatal care services as early as they would have liked.

The top-five states from No. 1 to No. 5: Minnesota, New Hampshire, Vermont, Hawaii and Utah.

Health care president named to USO Board

David J. McIntyre Jr., the president and chief executive officer of TriWest Health Care Alliance, which partners with the Department of Defense to provide health care for 2.7 million military personnel and their families in a 21-state western region, has been appointed to the USO World Headquarters' Board of Governors. The board assists the USO with its mission to enhance the quality of life for the military men and women and their families stationed throughout the world.

McIntyre, who has more than 18 years of experience in business operations and developing national health care policies, said, We at TriWest share with the USO a common and important mission to serve these deserving men and women, particularly during wartime. I am pleased and honored that the board of governors of the USO has asked me to join them in the essential work they do supporting the men and women wearing the nation's uniform.

Health care marketing professionals recognized

Memorial Hospital's 100th Year Anniversary Internal Communications Programs and 2004 African-American Health Fair won two 2004 Colorado Healthcare Communicators' Gold Leaf Awards. The CHC is the state public relations and marketing society for health care professionals.

For more than 20 years, CHC has recognized professionals in communications and marketing through its annual Gold Leaf Awards, said Ramonna Tooley, president of the 2004 CHC board of directors. We are proud to honor this year's winners for their outstanding accomplishments in the health care arena.

The staff, physicians and volunteers at Memorial Hospital have enjoyed celebrating our 100th anniversary of caring for the community, and we are pleased that CHC recognized the creativity that Cukjati Design and Advertising and IMS Productions brought to the internal and external promotion of this milestone with two gold leaf awards, said Chris Valentine of the Memorial Hospital public relations department. The silver leaf award for Memorial's annual African American Health Fair is a testament to the hospital's commitment to the health and wellness of every member of our community.

New diet drug

There is a lot of hype about an experimental drug that can help people stop smoking and lose weight.

According to the online AcompliaReport, the latest trial data showed that obese and overweight people lost four times the weight using the drug, Acomplia, than the placebo group. However, those in the trial who replaced Acomplia with a placebo gained weight in the second year.

The drug company, Sanofi-Aventis, is planning to request approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 2005. Because of the trial group's weight gain after participants stopped taking the drug, it is most likely the FDA will require proof of the drug's safety and tolerability over a long period of time.

A possible side effect, according to the report, is an onset of depression. About 2.9 percent of the participants on Acomplia dropped out of the trials because they experienced symptoms of depression. Mood disorders in general showed up in patients, and two patients experienced amnesia.

Sanofi-Aventis hopes the drug can be on the market by 2006; however, the report concluded that FDA concern regarding the side effects could extend the time frame beyond 2006.

Health care tidbit of the week

The American Obesity Association reports that about 127 million adults in the Unites States are overweight; 60 million are obese, and 9 million are severely obese. The number of adults who are overweight has continued to increase. Currently, 64.5 percent of U.S. adults, age 20 and older, are overweight, and 30.5 percent in that same group are obese. Severe obesity prevalence is at 4.7 percent, up from 2.9 percent reported in the 1988 - 1994 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that food consumption increased by 268 calories for men and 143 calories for women. Snacking accounts for most of the increases in calories, according to the report.

(Copyright 2004 Dolan Media Newswires)