Public Health considers underserved area, opioid overuse

Molly Killinger and Lee Merkel appeared before Health Providers on Wednesday to explain the work of the Arrow Performance Group, seeking community input about the health care shortage in Southeastern Colorado. Their goal is to identify challenges in Otero and Crowley Counties and to engage 25 community leaders who want to change the healthcare setup, and also 250 healthcare consumers who will help them identify the right questions to ask. They must file their report by July 16.

Of the underserved areas of the state, the group has picked an Urban area, 20/40 - Arapaho, Adams, Denver area and a rural area - Pueblo and Otero/Crowley Counties. They will be concentrating on Integrated Health Care, Value Based Payment and Barriers to Health Care. They have already determined that transportation to specialists is a problem in the area.

Karen Tomky, healthcare provider in Crowley County, asked expanded communications and help for private facilities, which are not included in some programs because they are privately financed. “We try to make money, but are not very successful at it,” she said. Healthcare Navigators are a wonderful concept but private practices get no help.

The study will proceed with design, including convenience sampling, qualitative data. asking four simple questions (what they are is to be determined), one hour focus groups, sessions or electronic surveys.

Linda Walker is working on a state Opioid Overuse and Abuse Project. She outlined the measures which have already been taken with pharmacists now being required to report any suspicious activity in prescriptions. A database exists to integrate all reporting and help to track down abuse. However, she said doctor’s officers, bound by confidentiality, are reluctant to share information. So she started with coroner’s offices, tracking the overdose-caused deaths in each of the counties she is covering in Southeast Colorado. The Trinidad coroner reported four deaths in 2012 and 2013, 12 in 2015, 20 in 2016, and six in 2017. In Walsenburg, the colorner reported three in 2015, six in 2016, and three in 2017. Karen Tomky, who serves as coroner in Crowley County, reported one accidental fentenol death. Contacted by the Tribune-Democrat later, Otero County Coroner Bob Fowler said, “We classically run about four to six a year, but we have had eight this year. These deaths tend to occur in the months January through April.”

Walker also talked about the most recent “60 Minutes” show on the pharmaceutical industry being implicated in some instances for not exercising due dilligence. The show is available on the internet and she recommends it. She also recommends a book, “The Addict’s Widow.” “We have to do something!” she said. “Children on drugs - teenagers are most at risk.” She commended the drug take-back programs in several communities.

Otero/Crowley County Public Health Rick Ritter, who emceed the meeting, asked for the collective help in “getting the word out” from all the providers. “The Crowley/Otero Child Fatality Prevention System local Review Team recently reviewed a child fatality case. As a result of this review, the RT recommended a special outreach effort to raise awareness around prenatal care and substance abuse during pregnancy.” At the meeting he said, “I urge all expectant mothers to refrain from the use of alcohol or drugs. It’s not just your life that’s involved.” Various handouts and brochures are available through the Otero/Crowley County Health Departments.