Penrose-St. Francis Health Services christened its new medical tower, a 72-bed hospital wing referred to as the E Tower, in January.

Health care remained a hot topic of discussion in 2005 both nationally and locally as costs continued to rise and the number of uninsured in America soared to 48 million.

Fifty percent of all bankruptcy filings were the result of medical bills, according to the National Coalition on Health Care. The coalition also reported that health care spending reached $1.7 trillion this year in the United States.

In Colorado, there are more than 300,000 working uninsured – an estimated 100,000 of whom live and work in El Paso County, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

According to Memorial Hospital figures mentioned at a community-wide health care forum in June, the hospital’s cost of uncompensated care has steadily risen since 1998. In 2004, the hospital contributed more than $60 million in non-reimbursed Medicare and Medicaid costs and charitable care. Rick O’Connell, CEO of Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, said the Centura hospital provided about $53 million in uncompensated care and community benefits last year.

“Between Memorial and Penrose-St. Francis, our emergency departments topped out the list as the first and second busiest EDs in the state of Colorado (last year),” O’Connell said.

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As Springs community leaders, the Bush administration and the health care industry in general try to mitigate the health care dilemma through prescription drug programs and increased services for the low-income, a single solution to the national crisis has yet to be addressed.

Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar and Arizona Sen. John McCain have organized a bipartisan health care commission to study government and private health programs as they relate to burgeoning health care costs, exorbitant insurance premiums and the growing number of uninsured.

Meanwhile, local health care organizations beefed up their own programs and received grants and donations to address health care needs in El Paso County and surrounding areas.

Penrose Hospital

Penrose christened its new medical tower, a 72-bed hospital wing referred to as the E (east) Tower, in January. The tower houses a 36-bed critical care unit and 36-bed cardiovascular unit with state-of-the-art mobile hydraulic monitoring centers.

The tower features wide hallways and spacious nurses’ stations and an ambiance emulating a hotel-like feel.

Included in the tower are doctors’ offices and a fitness center with six treadmills, three elliptical machines, one cable machine, four stationary exercise bicycles, a ski machine and a variety of body sculpting and weight training apparatus – all free of charge to Penrose employees who want to get fit and stay fit.

Peak Vista adds services

Peak Vista Community Health Centers collaborated with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services to open a senior health clinic on North Union Boulevard in January. The clinic serves seniors who have little or no access to primary care physicians, as area doctors increasingly opt out of Medicare.

Peak Vista also received a $600,000 grant from Health and Human Services to establish a clinic in Fountain to better serve the uninsured and low income in southern Colorado.

As a joint venture with Provision Plus, a private administrator of employee benefits, Peak Vista re-invented its Healthy Workforce Program, which was established in 2002. The program got a boost when Provision Plus owners Gary Smith and Larry Hargrave agreed to expand and market the program as an employee benefit package, with no costs to the employer.

The program offers benefits for a monthly fee.

Peak Vista also received a $126,893 grant from the Caring for Colorado Foundation. The grant supported a school-based dental screening and treatment program targeting first and second graders in high-need county elementary schools.

As Peak Vista celebrated 34 years as a health care provider, it also joined more than 2,000 ambulatory health care organizations across the United States that are accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care.

Peak Vista provides care for more than 45,000 patients annually.

Prescription drug program

In February, the Community Health Partnership and the El Paso County Medical Society inaugurated two prescription drug programs for El Paso and Teller counties’ residents: The Physician’s Rx Care Card (in coordination with Pharma Futures Inc.) and PASS, the prescription assistance solution service.

Physicians distribute the care card (discounts for prescriptions) to patients who do not have a prescription drug benefit. PASS is a prescription drug benefit program for individuals with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes or high blood pressure.

Kaiser partners with ADA

In June, Kaiser Permanente introduced a preventive health tool for predicting diabetes-related health issues. The Diabetes PHD (Personal Health Decisions), powered by Archimedes, is a Kaiser Permanente virtual technology innovation.

Kaiser Permanente and the American Diabetes Association partnered to launch the online tool that provides health profiles for people with or at risk of developing diabetes. The tool incorporates a life-like, mathematical simulation model (the Archimedes) that creates a virtual world to help health care organizations make critical clinical and administrative decisions.

More than 18 million Americans have diabetes and almost 41 million more are at risk of developing the disease, which can lead to other health-related complications, such as heart disease, blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

Diabetes is the fifth-leading cause of death by disease in the United States.

Memorial expands services

Memorial Hospital added a helicopter – Memorial Star Transport – to its fleet of ambulatory services in early 2005.

The Bell 407 helicopter serves the Colorado Springs Children’s Hospital at Memorial in transferring acute neo-natal and pediatric patients. The Med-Trans Corp. of Bismarck, N.D, operates the helicopter, which is equipped with diagnostic and treatment devices, including an isolette for infant transports. The chopper is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week,

Memorial’s north campus at Research Parkway and Union Boulevard, which includes a 220,000 square-foot acute-care hospital, is scheduled to open in 2007. Renovations at Memorial Hospital’s main campus are under way.

Teller medical campus

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2006 on a new medical campus in Woodland Park. Founded by the Pikes Peak Regional Medical Association, the medical campus will house Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, a 15-bed acute primary-care facility; a medical office building; Prospect Home Care Hospice, which is relocating to the campus from its current Woodland Park quarters; and a 24-unit assisted living center with eight independent-living apartments.

Heritage Health Care Management, which is based in Cleveland, Tenn., is developing the assisted living center.

Mental health program

The Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations named Pikes Peak Mental Health Center the winner of the ninth Ernest Amory Codman Award, which recognizes excellence in the use of outcomes measurement by health care organizations.

PPMHC received the behavioral health care category award for its part in addressing substance abuse issues in the area. PPMHC, in collaboration with community partners, like Penrose-St. Francis Hospital, Memorial Hospital and the city and county, formed a detox governing council, which resulted in the Harbor House program.

Funded by 12 grants and donations, the program operated by PPMHC provides transitional housing and intensive case management to clients with a history of chronic alcoholism and homelessness.

Merger announced

UnitedHealth Group purchased Pacificare Health Systems for $8.1 billion in 2005. The merger has been approved and is forging ahead. However, the Department of Justice is involved in negotiations concerning the Boulder and Tucson, Ariz., markets.