The American Society for Bariatric Surgery has recognized the Penrose-St. Francis Center for Bariatric Surgery as a surgery center of excellence. The ASBS designation is awarded to surgical programs that have demonstrated favorable outcomes in bariatric surgery.

Bariatric surgical procedures are gastrointestinal operations that reduce the size of a person’s stomach to minimize food consumption. The surgery, mainly used for weight-loss purposes, also rearranges the small intestines to reduce the amount of calories the body absorbs.

The team at the Penrose-St. Francis bariatric center has performed more than 2,500 procedures during the program’s 25-year history, and has a zero-percent mortality rate. The medical director of the program is Dr. Scott Fisher.

A nine-bed bariatric unit opened in Penrose Hospital’s new E Tower critical care unit this year to accommodate the growing number of patients.

According to a July study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, the number of U.S. bariatric surgeries more than quadrupled between 1998 and 2002, from 13,386 to 71,733.

The ASBS Centers of Excellence program was created to recognize bariatric surgery centers that perform well and to help surgeons and hospitals improve quality and care.

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“Due to the increasing prevalence of morbid obesity and the inherent risks, and the opportunities available to greatly improve the health of this patient population, we recognize the need to implement a systematic approach to improving quality,” Fisher said.

Going cold turkey pain free

Quitting smoking is listed as the No. 2 New Year’s resolution among Americans. (Next week, we’ll talk about the No. 1 resolution.) Those who attempt to lose the cigarette habit will have help if they want to go cold turkey come Jan. 1.

Colorado Quitline, a program of the State Tobacco Education and Prevention Partnership, is a toll-free telephone counseling service that connects smokers with counselors who will guide them through the agony of nicotine withdrawal. Quitline is offering free nicotine replacement therapy patches to smokers who enroll in its cessation program.

The state tobacco tax pays for the counseling and the patches.

Karen DeLeeuw, the director of STEP, said Coloradoans interested in the smoking cessation program will receive free support and advice, a personalized plan for quitting, self-help materials and a four-week supply of nicotine patches, which are delivered by mail.

An additional four-week supply is available. Eligible recipients must be 18.

Tobacco is responsible for more than 4,200 deaths in Colorado annually, and is the state’s leading cause of preventable deaths. For each tobacco-related death, another 20 adults suffer from a tobacco-related illness. About 130,000 smokers develop smoking-related illnesses each year, and annual health care costs in Colorado because of tobacco use exceed $1 billion.

More than 13,000 Colorado residents have enrolled in Colorado Quitline’s cessation program. The success rate for Quitline callers who remain tobacco free for six months is 28 percent. Tobacco users are seven times more likely to quit with Quitline than trying to quit on their own.

Salazar and health care

Sen. Ken Salazar in a November news release pointed to statistics showing that 48 million Americans are uninsured.

“During my conversations with Coloradoans over the last 10 months, whether in cities or in small towns, health care is consistently at the top of their concerns,” Salazar said.

He said most Americans are uninsured because the average annual premium for employer-sponsored family coverage is $10,000.

Mike Dabroski, who owns All-ways Recycle in Colorado Springs, agrees that health care is a concern for Americans. His solution is to maintain a healthy lifestyle to prevent illness. He has invested in a health savings account for a catastrophic situation.

“It’s the working class who pay a lot of the taxes who are most affected by a lack of health care,” Dabroski said.

The National Coalition reports that health care spending reached $1.7 trillion in the United States in 2004, but experts say the system is “riddled with inefficiencies, excessive administrative expenses, inflated prices, poor management, inappropriate care, waste and fraud.”

Salazar and Arizona Sen. John McCain are leading a 10-member bipartisan national commission on health care to study government and private health care programs. They want the commission to provide practical remedies that Congress can address and eventually enact. The commission will make recommendations about the growing number of uninsured and the rising costs of health care and insurance premiums.

“It is not a Democratic or Republican problem,” Salazar said. “It is a national problem that we must solve together.”

Senators and representatives won’t resolve it, either, unless they include folks who have the ability to think outside the box.

Marylou Doehrman covers health care for the Colorado Springs Business Journal.