U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar also visited Steamboat Springs to speak at the Colorado Water Congress' 2007 summer convention, held at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. Read about the event, which featured water experts speaking about topics including climate change, water supply and future water policy, in Sunday's Steamboat Pilot & Today.
Steamboat Springs The statistic made U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar's eyes open wide in surprise.
"Our emergency room visits have increased 40 percent in the past year," Bob Omer, chief executive officer of Pioneers Medical Center in Meeker, told the senator Thursday at a public meeting that drew several elected officials and members of the public to Centennial Hall. Salazar, a Democrat from the San Luis Valley, is touring Colorado during Congress' August recess.
Omer credited the increase in hospitalizations to exploding oil and natural gas development in Western Colorado. Omer said energy development is bringing so many people to his hospital - often traveling long distances from well sites - that he plans to open a clinic to serve the Rifle and Parachute area next month.
"That's an incredible number," Salazar said about the 40 percent figure. "You have an emergency situation in Rio Blanco County."
Salazar said cries for health care reform are increasingly heard in Washington, D.C.
"The drumbeat has become so loud about how bad our health care system is in America, that we will start to see more action in Congress," Salazar said. "It is a crisis, in my view, that is crippling families and businesses in our state and our country. : We are on the verge of getting through Congress legislation that would significantly expand children's health care programs."
Salazar said the legislation would use revenue from a tobacco tax to fund health care for 10 million children, including 200,000 in Colorado, where he said a total of 800,000 people are currently without health care coverage.
On Friday in Denver, the senator will meet with Gov. Bill Ritter's 2008 Commission, which is working on widespread health care proposals for the 2008 session of the state Legislature.
Karl Gills, chief executive officer of Yampa Valley Medical Center, expressed concerns to Salazar that as the baby boomer generation ages, a decreasing workforce could be overwhelmed in the health care industry.
"We have a significant shortage of health care workers in our society," Gills said.
Marsha Daughenbaugh of the Community Agriculture Alliance spoke about a different kind of shortage: disappearing ranchlands.
Rising land prices and increasing taxes, especially taxes on lands inherited by families of deceased agricultural landowners, are causing increased sales of ranchlands, Daughenbaugh said.
Salazar said he and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., recently announced the Family Farm and Ranch Act of 2007, which would exempt farmers and ranchers from estate taxes to preserve future generations of family farming.
"I have long sought a permanent repeal of the estate tax, and I continue to support permanent repeal for those affected by this unfair tax," Sen. Roberts said in an Aug. 13 statement. "As farms are passed down among the generations, estate taxes have made it increasingly harder to keep the operation in the family. : This legislation will go a long way to keep our young people farming into the future, preserving our rural way of life and our rural communities."
Roberts is a member of the Senate Committee on Finance and the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.
Salazar said he is optimistic about the success of the bill, which has not yet begun the legislative process.
"I think we have a good shot at it," he said.
Congress reconvenes Sept. 4.
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