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Health Policy Solutions
By Katie Kerwin McCrimmon
November 20, 2012
The mother laces her fingers through her daughter’s hands, holding her in her lap. She sings to calm her while a medical assistant straps a blood pressure cuff around the girl’s arm.
Amy gets nervous going to the doctor. Countless strokes that she suffered in utero 18 years ago have left her blind and severely developmentally disabled.
At just over 100 pounds, she is petite, but still much too big for her mother’s lap. Even so, her mom, state Sen. Irene Aguilar, a primary care doctor herself and a Denver Democrat, knows well how to soothe Amy. Distressed, Amy cups a hand over her ears and repeats a phrase that sounds like: “Id-it. Id-it. Id-it. Id-it.” Aguilar hugs Amy and centers her again. In a quiet voice you might use to settle a tired toddler, she asks: “Do you want mommy to start?”
Amy decides to begin, belting out a line from the Hokey Pokey. “You put your right…”
“Foot,” Aguilar answers without missing a beat.
Then Amy calls out the next few words: “In. You put your…”
This type of call and response song is one of the primary ways Amy communicates. She has a special song for each member of her family, including her aunts and numerous cousins who help care for her. When she senses footsteps coming into the room, she calls out “Mommy” or “Daddy” and starts singing their special song. It may not seem like much. But when you consider that Amy and her identical twin sister, Meg, had a 50 percent chance of dying before birth, they both live up to their middle names. Amy’s is Milagro, Spanish for miracle. Meg’s is Hannah, meaning gracious gift from God.
A rare type of twins, known as MoMo (for monoamniotic, monochorionic) the girls shared the same amniotic sac. This type of pregnancy is very dangerous since the babies’ umbilical cords often become hopelessly entangled and can cause death or disability.
18 weeks pregnant with a year-old son at home, Aguilar and her husband, Tom Bost, also a physician, learned about the scary complications they faced.
Their doctors offered a therapeutic abortion. But Aguilar and Bost decided they had been blessed with the medical skills and the finances to face whatever came their way.
Meg beat the odds. She is healthy and bright, an award-winning high school senior, poised to go to a top college, where she’s considering pre-med and a possible career with special needs children or Doctors without Borders. Amy faces a lifetime on Medicaid and forever will need extensive care and support. Amy and many of Aguilar’s neediest patients at Denver Health served as Aguilar’s inspiration when she suddenly jumped into politics in 2010 and was the underdog victor in a vacancy committee battle among six candidates to replace Sen. Chris Romer who resigned to run for Denver mayor.
The first in her immigrant family to make it to college, much less to medical school, and now the only practicing physician in the Colorado Legislature, Aguilar recently was elected to a new term and chosen by her peers as assistant majority leader of the Senate. She’s hoping to lead the Senate Health Committee.Full story
The Denver Post
By: Anthony Cotton
November 19, 2012
Not long ago, Metropolitan State University of Denver found itself in the cross hairs for its decision to create a new tuition rate for undocumented students.
President Stephen Jordan and other school officials were asked to justify their actions during a lengthy and, at times, combustible hearing before the legislature's powerful Joint Budget Committee. This happened shortly after the state attorney general said the plan was a violation of state law, which in turn led to threats of lawsuits against the institution.
After the election, in which Democrats gained control of the state House and retained control of the Senate, there's a strong chance the entire controversy will disappear. Other dramatic changes could be in store for higher education.
"I think we'll have a very busy year next year," said State Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver.
Gov. John Hickenlooper this month released a 2013-14 budget that includes a $30 million increase for higher education.Full story
November 19, 2012
By: Jace Larson
The state Department of Human Services is making progress in its attempt to improve the child welfare system in Colorado.
However, a senator told the 9Wants to Know investigators that more needs to be done.
The multi-part report, jointly produced by The Denver Post and 9NEWS, caught the eye of State Senator Linda Newell, D-Littleton.
"Every citizen should be called to action from what you've shown," she said.
She praised a new state law which will allow DHS to provide more information to the public when a child dies or suffers severe abuse, but said more should be done. She also said the Colorado Office of the Child Protection Ombudsman has increased neutral oversight of the Department of Human Services.
"We've set some of these things in place and have done a really good job of significantly reforming child welfare over the last four years," she said. "But we have a long way to go."
State Department of Human Services Director Reggie Bicha, who has been in the position for nearly two years, said increased transparency when a child dies or suffers severe abuse will benefit the system.
"We'll talk to caseworkers and other people and we'll come up with our own conclusions about what happened," he said. "That information, to the greatest extent possible, will be made public."Full story
GLENWOOD SPRINGS — Area social-services agencies tentatively agreed Wednesday to focus their attentions on two groups in the regional homeless population — military veterans and youths.
State Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village, noted that her district covers 11 counties, from Basalt to the San Luis Valley, and has “probably the wealthiest and probably the poorest people in the state.”
She pledged her support in dealing with homelessness issues but noted that the state budget is facing massive financial shortfalls every year.
“I just want you to understand, these are hard choices when it comes to the budget,” she said.Full story
By: Nick Morgan
Watch Senator Michael Johnston (D-Denver) speak about his experience as a principal and educator at a recent Teach for America benefit dinner in Connecticut. Click here to read the full story written by Nick Morgan on Forbes.com.Full story
The Cortez Journal
By: Joe Hanel
October 12, 2012
DENVER — With fires still burning in one of the most active fire seasons in Colorado history, state leaders convened Friday to see what can be done about overgrown forests.
They generally agreed that the Mountain West needs a healthier logging industry, but solutions are elusive because of a booming human population in the forests, tight budgets and political gridlock.
“Clearly we need to have a stronger forest industry to maintain our healthy forests,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper.
He’s hopeful that the state’s biggest sawmill, in Montrose, will reopen soon, and that another new mill will open in Wyoming....
One idea is to align plans for job growth, energy production and logging, said state Sen. Gail Schwartz, D-Snowmass Village.
The Forest Service has tens of thousands of slash piles sitting in the forests. If private companies could use that dead wood, they could generate energy and heat. Biomass power stations could also be paired with sawmills, Schwartz said.
“One person’s waste becomes another person’s fuel or heat,” she said.Full story
By: Natasha Gardner
The doorbell is broken so the volunteer taps on the metal door of state Senator Morgan Carroll’s home in eastern Aurora. “Come on in,” Carroll hollers. Standing atop the entryway stairs, she is dressed, as she often is, like a grape, wearing a purple campaign shirt, and carrying a matching tote and pen. The 5-foot-9-inch redheaded congresswoman towers over the volunteer, a Republican rancher who has driven two hours to spend the afternoon campaigning for Carroll—a Democrat, environment-lover, and social progressive who’s rarely seen an animal she doesn’t want to bring home. They shouldn’t get along, yet here they are, yakking about Aurora’s stance on oil fracking.Full story
CNN I Report
September 20, 2012
Colorado Senator Jeanne Nicholson was honored as Legislator of the Year by the Colorado Community College System (CCCS). The ceremony took place at Red Rocks Community College (RRCC) on September 19, 2012 and featured top administrators from CCCS and RRCC. Jeanne Nicholson has been a tremendous asset to community colleges statewide but she was very gracious in her acceptance of the award, giving most of the credit back to the CCCS and RRCC staff. The multipart ceremony at Red Rocks also honored many student groups and featured a tour of RRCC’s latest accomplishment, a student health clinic designed to offer student-fee paying students quality health care for little to no cost. A group of honored quests, led by RRCC Michelle Haney, toured the new student health clinic with great interest. After the award ceremony, Sen. Nicholson was very interested to hear about the benefits the clinic offered students without health insurance or students temporarily on their parents plan because of the steep discounts the clinic offers. RRCC is very proud of its new student health clinic and senator Nicholson should be very proud of all she has done for community college students statewide.Full story
The Aspen Daily News
By: Andrew Travers
September 19, 2012
Officials from the Aspen Community School are kicking off a nearly $5 million fundraising campaign this week, aiming to collect required matching funds for a state grant awarded for their long-sought campus overhaul.
“We’re trying to kick it into high-gear fundraising mode for our match,” said Skye Skinner, executive director for the school.
The 42-year-old Woody Creek school’s campus plans call for more than $9 million in renovation and construction.
After three years of unsuccessful bids for Colorado’s competitive Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) grant to help fund the project, the Community School won a $4.2 million grant last month, with a required $4.9 million in matching funds due in May. That was after a protracted appeal over the amount of matching funds the school would owe the state.
The charter school’s campaign to raise that amount officially launches Wednesday, when school officials are expected to announce an initial donation and fundraising plans. They’ve branded it the “I Believe” campaign.
Supporters on hand Wednesday will include State Sen. Gail Schwartz and Jim Griffin, president of the Colorado League of Charter Schools. Both were strong advocates for the Community School to win the BEST grant and, along with Aspen School District Superintendent John Maloy and others, gave presentations to the state board advocating for the Community School’s dire facility needs.Full story
The Aspen Business Journal
August 26, 2012
CARBONDALE—Monica Wiitanen has baked bread at her Small Potatoes Farm in Paonia for decades. But unlike the produce she grows for farmers’ markets and CSA boxes, her loaves of Swedish rye and onion fougasse were not for sale.
Until recently, direct sales of baked goods and many other items prepared in home kitchens were illegal in the state of Colorado. That changed on March 15th, when Governor Hickenlooper signed the Cottage Foods Act into state law.
Tagged the “Local Foods, Local Jobs Act” (SB-48), the new law exempts home kitchens from certain health inspections required for large retailers, while training Colorado cooks in basic caning, labeling and food handling.
State Senator Gail Schwartz of Colorado’s 5th District, who sponsored the law, brought Wiitanen and her bread to last week’s Roaring Fork Valley Food Policy Council meeting in Carbondale. Together they explained how the new law cultivates individual enterprise and builds local food economies.
While traveling through farm and ranch lands across the eleven counties in her district, Schwartz noticed that one key issue kept rising to the top.
“People said there weren’t enough affordable, commercial kitchens that they could realistically rent and use. When they did find one, they had to pack up their ingredients and drive forty-five minutes away on a gorgeous day, when they really should be out picking the food and doing the canning right there, in their own homes,” said the senator.Full story
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