Growth strains health services

Study outlines needs and costs to handle expanding workforce

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Routt County Human Services receptionist Ruth Ann Mewborn talks on the phone Wednesday at the office on Sixth Street in Steamboat Springs. Mewborn said she is the first person people talk to when inquiring about health services offered by the agency.

— Along with housing, real estate prices and parking in downtown Steamboat Springs, growth in Routt County is having a significant impact on health-related services.

"We have a growing population of uninsured or underinsured in our community. There are a whole lot of folks that don't have the support of health insurance," said Bob White, director of the Routt County Department of Human Services. "The numbers have been increasing every year for the last several years. It's radically increasing."

To plan for the expanded services that Routt County's booming growth will require, White, other local health officials and members of the Human Resource Coalition have prepared a draft Health and Human Services Plan. White presented the plan Tuesday at a joint meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council.

The plan identifies concerns such as senior citizen care, early childhood care, language barriers due to a growing immigrant population, preventative services for at-risk youths, and promoting a healthy lifestyle. It also identifies local organizations currently working to address those concerns.

Yampa Valley Medical Center, Routt County Council on Aging, Routt County United Way and Advocates Against Battering and Abuse are some of more than 30 organizations identified in the plan.

"It's thanks to the city and county partnership that we have the dollars to fund these activities : but we all struggle to maintain current services," White told commissioners and council members. "This plan is how, should you choose, we take it to the next level."

White said the primary needs will arise in Routt County's lower and middle classes.

"It's not just (numbers of) second-home owners and affluent folks that are growing in the Yampa Valley," White said. "The impacts on the workforce have been huge."

The draft health plan, based on policies in the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, reflects that need.

"The primary importance of this document is the reality that our community is experiencing unprecedented growth in the number of working families," reads the plan. "While this does impact affordable housing, it also impacts the community's health and human services programs. Several of these programs already exist, however, additional staffing and funding will be necessary to meet the needs of the community."

The health plan lists numerous itemized costs to boost local health services, such as $30,000 annually to fund a prenatal clinic for low-income women, $300,000 for additional dental staff, $150,000 to increase detoxification facilities, and $15,000 for suicide prevention needs.

Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak asked White to include a prioritization of the costs in future versions of the plan. White paused before telling Stahoviak that attempts at prioritization have so far failed.

"It's as if you were conducting an orchestra and had to decide whether to throw out the piano or the violin," White said. "We couldn't do it."

At a Jan. 20 event in Steamboat, Gov. Bill Ritter said 770,000 Coloradans are without health care.

Stahoviak said the Area Community Plan Committee will review the draft health plan before future versions are created.

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