Local health-care fix in the works

The push is on to bring health care to thousands of needy La Plata County residents.

Efforts are under way to ask voters to approve a locally operated health service district. The district would be geared toward filling gaps in local health care.

“The health service district is a chance to help thousands of La Plata County residents who have been denied access to health care, namely mental health, primary care and preventive services,” explained Marsh Porter-Norton, co-chair of the Health Service District Committee. “It will especially help seniors, kids and families.”

The proposed district would assess a two mill property tax increase to address shortfalls in current local health care. Such an increase would generate $4.2 million annually and that sum would increase by 4 percent each year. The proposed levy would cost the average county homeowner about $40 a year.

Porter-Norton explained that if approved by the voters, the district will increase access, affordability and quality of health care for all residents of La Plata County. Among the district’s goals are: partial funding of a community health center to address primary care for underserved residents; enhanced prenatal care and support; improved immunizations for children; in-home services for the elderly and disabled; inpatient mental health services; outpatient and emergency mental health services; and centralized health care information.

Mental health care is particularly hard-hit in La Plata County, according to Porter-Norton. She said that funding has been radically cut-back and mental health care frequently tops local priority lists.

Porter-Norton argued that the Health Service District will not merely help the indigent. It will help reduce stress on La Plata County’s current health-care system. Specifically, it will make the delivery of basic health care to residents less reliant upon fluctuating federal and state budgets and create a central system of coordinated health care for all local residents.

However, the effort still has several hurdles to cross. First, the La Plata County commissioners are going to tap public sentiment on the proposal before setting an election date. The commissioners will hold a public meeting at 7 p.m. on Tues., Jan. 10, at the La Plata County Fairgrounds to determine whether residents are willing to pay for a countywide health-care district. If the commissioners see wisdom in the district, the public at large will have an opportunity to weigh in during a May 9 election.

Porter-Norton said that the committee is optimistic. “The Health Service District Committee has been working on this for over two years and is anxious to take the Health Service District to the voters of La Plata County in a hopeful May 2006 election.” 

New tourism office director named

The vacancy at the helm of the Durango Area Tourism Office has been filled. After an extensive search, John Cohen has been selected to fill the shoes of outgoing Executive Director Kim Newcomer.

Cohen has more than 15 years experience in the travel industry and extensive experience in sales, marketing and public relations. Most recently, Cohen worked as the director of sales with the Blue Man Group in Las Vegas. Prior to that, he was a managing partner for Jerry Cohen Associates and opened and directed the West Coast office for the company specializing in the travel industry. 

Kris Oyler, DATO chairman, explained that the hiring process was a rigorous one, and Cohen was the top candidate.

“The selection committee reviewed close to 60 resumes during the hiring process for DATO’s new executive director, and there were a number of very qualified candidates,” he said. “John Cohen’s name and resume continually rose to the top through the process, and we are excited to be bringing him on board.”

Oyler added that Durango area tourism had a strong 2005 and is poised for more growth in 2006, thanks party to Cohen’s hire.

“John has the credentials and the drive to take DATO, and tourism in La Plata County, to another level,” he said.

Cohen begins work Jan. 9.

Flu season closes in on Durango

Flu season is rapidly closing in on the Durango area. Neighboring states, Arizona, Utah and California have been three of the nation’s four hot spots for flu, and infections are expected to grow as kids return to school and their parents return to work. Meanwhile, the San Juan Basin Health

Department has announced that it is now out of flu vaccine.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s weekly flu report, the virus is now widespread in Arizona, Utah, New Mexico and California. Colorado is currently listed as local activity, two notches down from “widespread,” the center’s highest listing. Flu season typically reaches its peak in the first three months of the year.

Roughly 3,000 La Plata County residents have taken the ultimate precaution against the flu. During the last several months, San Juan Basin Health has provided flu shots to approximately 3,000 individuals, and the supply of adult vaccine has officially run out. “The New Year brings challenges to staying healthy,” says San Juan Basin Health Public Health Nurse Patsy Ford. “We all get busy in the new year which is all the more reason that you continue to ensure good health habits such as exercise, eating well, getting plenty of rest and drinking fluids.”

Ford added that flu season is just beginning to hit the community and urged residents to take precautions including: washing hands; avoiding hand contact with the face; staying at least 3 feet away from people who are coughing; and staying home if you get the flu.

Flu vaccine is still available for children up to age 18 and will continue to be provided during Monday Immunization Clinics from 3 to 5:30 p.m. The next clinic will be held Jan. 9.

Price of visit to Mesa Verde goes up

The cost of visiting nearby Mesa Verde National Park is on the rise. Effective Jan. 1, Mesa Verde started charging visitors who are 16 years of age and older an entrance fee. The move is in line with the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act signed into law Dec. 8 by President Bush.

The act created a multi-agency fee authority for the National Park Service and four other federal land agencies, allowing them to retain the majority of fee revenues collected at the site. The revenues will be used primarily for backlog maintenance, and visitor use and enjoyment, according to the park. 

This change will affect few visitors at Mesa Verde National Park, since the park’s entrance fee is charged by the vehicle. The ticketed tour system for Balcony House, Long House and Cliff Palace will not be affected by this change.

– compiled by Will Sands



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