Affordable care, mental health top concerns

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Lack of access to dentists, mental health service and affordable health insurance top the list of issues facing El Paso County residents.
The news comes from a report issued by the Colorado Health Foundation, which awards grants to state health care providers.
“There is an increasing aging population,” the report said. “And it was recognized that there was a lack of community care for frail elders. In addition, an attendee added that there is also a lack of access to family physicians. As a result, there is an increasing number of costly emergency room visits in local hospitals.”
Foundation representatives were in Colorado Springs last month to talk with health care providers and community and civic leaders, including City Council members, county employees and more than 50 nonprofits leaders.
“The discussion covered a broad range of topics from the high rate of uninsured, lack of competitive market forces in the health care market-place, low rate of Medicaid reimbursement and lack of physicians who accept Medicaid,” said Chris Power-Bain, senior communications officer for the foundation. “We also talked about the fact that the two most profitable hospitals in the state are located in the county and the impact of large influx of military families and dependents.”
Statewide meetings will continue through 2007, but the organization won’t wait to begin issuing grants. It plans to solicit grant applications, as well as make “initiative” grants in areas where “we can make a difference,” said Executive Vice President Deborah Thomas.
“We’re going to take this information to figure out what we can do,” she said. “In addition to grants, we’re also going to be providing initiatives — programs that we think are important in an area. For example, we’ve put some funds into health information technology, a three- or four-year initiative that provides a safety net and puts technology into clinics. We’ll be following the guidelines provided by the leaders as well.”
Participants in the two sessions said access to care — from dental to private practitioners to mental health professionals — was the top issue in Colorado Springs.
“However, it was thought there is a lack of access to care for all vulnerable populations, not just the elderly,” the report said. “Along with the a lack of access to dentists, health care services, mental health services and affordable health insurance which were highlighted by the Foundation, an attendee added that there is also a lack of access to family physicians.”
Much of the problem with dental care results from a shortage of dentists who accept Medicare or Medicaid because of low reimbursement rates, said Kandi Buckland, deputy of public health administration at the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment.
“Few doctors are accepting new patients with Medicare or Medicaid,” she said. “So it certainly is putting a burden on the ones who still do.”
Cynthia Doty, communications director at Pikes Peak Mental Health, said the interest in mental health issues could not come at a better time.
“A foundation like that can really provide some much needed funding,” she said. “We’ve been trying to get the recognition that this topic deserves.”
Funding for mental health issues has declined, causing the nonprofit organization to eliminate many programs.
“We got some of the funding back after Amendment C, but there are still significant populations that are underserved,” Doty said. “It’s estimated that one in every five people need mental health services, but less than one-third of those receive care. Funding is definitely an up-hill battle.”
In many ways, the discussions last month mirrored a study by the El Paso County Department of Health and Environment. The 2006 “Life, Death and Disease in El Paso County, Colorado” surveyed 3,000 residents about health concerns and issues.
The foundation’s study showed that some local concerns have remained constant, but there were differences, said Buckland.
“The study is self-reporting,” she said. “It’s not based on physician data at all; it’s just what these people thought were important issues. They listed child abuse and neglect, homelessness and drug and alcohol abuse as the top issues.”
When asked to rate issues on a scale of one to five, however, the participants said the cost of health care, lack of mental health care and access to care were the top three, she said.
In 2004, 20.6 percent of adults in El Paso County did not have health insurance, compared to 15.7 percent statewide and 14.8 percent nationally.
“Access to care is a big issue,” Buckland said. “And one of the things I don’t think was addressed … is the growth in our community. I’m not sure we’re totally prepared for that from a health care side of things.”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com