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Bioethics during times of war: Where are we today?

Medicine and Morality speakers

World War II came with cruelties the world had never seen. The atrocities committed by medical providers in Nazi Germany permanently shaped present-day medical ethics.

These morals are the foundation for physicians’ duties to protect their patients regardless of when or where they practice. The Center for Bioethics and Humanities at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus hosted a recent event that focused on preserving this morality, and how it is being challenged in present day.

‘Demanding morality’

The event, “Medicine and Morality in Times of War,” was attended by about 125 faculty, staff, students and members of the general public. It was part of a larger 2019 Holocaust Genocide and Contemporary Bioethics (HGCB) program, which comprised of nine events across all four CU campuses during the federally designated “Week of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust,” April 29 to May 3. The CU Center for Bioethics and Humanities has been hosting the program since 2016.

The event began with a haunting musical performance by two members of the Anschutz Campus Orchestra, and was followed by opening remarks by Matt Wynia, MD, MPH , director of the Center for Bioethics.

“Every topic in bioethics is affected by the nationalist, socialist regime in Nazi Germany,” he said. “It is a long painful shadow. This program is intended to bring forth the legacy of healthcare in the Holocaust and how it still affects how we think about so many aspects of bioethics.”

Speakers at Holocaust remembrance event
Speakers at the event included, from left, Janine Young, Zaher Sahloul and Ved Nanda.

William Silvers, MD, followed up with words of thanks for the continuation of the Holocaust Remembrance week programming at CU Anschutz, and Rabbi Joseph Friedman of DAT Minyan gave a foreword of solemn praise.

“In times of war, the law falls silent,” Friedman said. “Conversations that are happening in this room are meant to ensure that the world demands morality.”

‘A stain on humanity’

Two national leaders in international human rights each gave a 20-minute talk highlighting current ethical issues and how they juxtapose with the Holocaust. These presentations were followed by two local experts offering 10-minute commentaries as panel respondents.

The first speaker, Zaher Sahloul, MD, is a Syrian-American physician who has witnessed doctors in his native Syria committing war crimes. He has run multiple medical relief missions into Syria and along its borders to aid civilians and refugees. At times he worked underground to decrease his chance of being bombed by a regime run by his former medical school classmate, Bashar al-Assad.

“Medical facilities cannot be built because they are specifically targeted,” he said of his experience treating patients in Syria. “ ‘Never again’ is happening again and again. We need to pay attention and stop the atrocities happening across the world. It is a stain on our humanity.”

Len Rubenstein, JD, gave the second talk. A professor at Johns Hopkins University who has spent two decades engaged in research and advocacy concerning the protection of medicine and medical ethics in war, he gave specific examples of how the values that came from WWII have started to erode.

“Following the war, it was declared that providers should treat a patient regardless of their political affiliation,” he said. “Suffering people across the world have started to lose access to care because providers don’t want to be associated with terrorism, a word that is very loosely defined in the eyes of the law. We have to go back to the principle of humanity.”

‘Thoughtful responses to moral dilemmas’

The first respondent, Janine Young, MD, called attention to the refugee crisis and how it could mirror how Jewish refugees were treated.

“We’re affecting entire generations of children,” said Young, citing her experience as medical director of the Refugee Clinic and co-founder of the new Human Rights Clinic at Denver Health. “We need to recognize them as humans who came here for a better life.”

She works with many patients in Colorado who have been displaced by the Syrian Civil War and other conflicts in Latin America, Africa and Asia, providing direct clinical care, developing medical screening guidelines, performing research and advocating for undocumented immigrants.

The second respondent, Ved Nanda, MA, LLB, LLM, namesake of the Ved Nanda Center for International and Comparative Law at the University of Denver highlighted specific hardships that physicians face in war-torn countries.

“Doctors are victims,” he said. “They are targeted, along with hospitals and ambulances. These acts are committed by governments and the people who are fighting them, all over the world.”

The closing panel discussion featured all four speakers on stage fielding questions from the audience and explored the delicate interconnectivity of global politics and medicine.

“We have to take care of the vulnerable,” said Sahloul. “We have a responsibility as providers to uphold this morality through the test of time.”

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CU Orthopedics serves super-club of 10,000 kickers

The Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club (CRYSC) is partnering with leading sports medicine specialists at the University of Colorado Department of Orthopedics at the CU School of Medicine and UCHealth to ensure its athletes receive unsurpassed care as well as education about injury prevention.

Acting as liaison between CU, CRYSC and UCHealth is Head Athletic Trainer Julie Graves, MA, ATC, who became the full-time athletic trainer for the Colorado Storm soccer club two years ago. Her role has expanded as the Storm recently merged with CRYSC, creating a super-club of over 10,000 players ages 3 to 18. CU Orthopedics’ title sponsorship is similar to the arrangement with Storm, but “it’s just at a bigger volume,” Graves said. “We’ve had two years of providing top-tier care and it’s going extremely well.”

Responsive treatment

Julie Graves
Julie Graves, MA, ATC, is the head athletic trainer for the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club.

Teaming with CRYSC and its five regions along the Front Range comes at an ideal time as the Department of Orthopedics is experiencing a high rate of growth. “Adding this to our portfolio positions the department for a high level of exposure across Colorado, and we look forward to strategically growing this relationship with the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club over the next several years,” said David Kaplan, Orthopedics Department finance administrator.

Graves works with three medical directors who volunteer their time to provide care for club members. “We try to get our kids directly into one of those three first and foremost, but if they’re overbooked we find another CU sports medicine specialist to provide care,” Graves said. “This really gets them right where they need to go in an expedited manner.”

Graves has treated a variety of injuries on the field including dislocated kneecaps, labral hip tears and sprained ankles. However, treatment doesn’t stop on the field. Graves further develops the at-home rehab program, recommending exercises and stretches, and follows up on the player’s progress. Graves has also established an athletic training evaluation space inside the CRYSC Central Region headquarters where the members come to have their appointments. Having a dedicated space gives her the ability to see injuries within 24 to 48 hours, as well as provide treatment or taping before practice.

Positioned for injury prevention

The partnership between CRYSC and CU Orthopedics is a special one. Kaplan notes, “Becoming a sponsor uniquely positions us to focus on injury prevention with these young athletes and ultimately care for them at the appropriate location when an injury does occur. The Sports Medicine team across the School of Medicine has the expertise and experience to take care of the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club athletes similar to the way we cover University of Denver athletics, University of Colorado athletics, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Mammoth, Rockies and Denver Broncos.”

For athletes, the presence of an athletic trainer takes away the worry of when an injury occurs and next steps. In the event of a more serious injury, Graves close working relationship with CU Sports Medicine specialists has afforded her the ability to refer athletes and their parents to the most appropriate specialist depending on location, severity, or type of injury. This is the same approach CU Sports Medicine takes with collegiate level teams and the professional teams they support.

Graves frequently hears from grateful parents. “I’ve gotten absolutely wonderful feedback from the athletes and parents,” she said. “They’re so grateful that the club has an athletic trainer and a huge orthopedic partnership that provides quick, effective and professional treatment for their kids.”

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Pharmacy school enrollment numbers up despite drops nationally

Skaggs brags:

There’s good news to share from the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences (CU Pharmacy). Applicant numbers at CU Pharmacy have risen 30 percent, even as applications to pharmacy programs nationwide are down 3 percent.

While the number of pharmacy schools in the U.S. has increased from 80 in 2009 to 143 today, the number of students applying to pharmacy programs seems to have plateaued. In the resulting competition for pharmacy students, CU Pharmacy is faring well – and the school’s leaders credit high-quality academic programs and enhanced recruitment efforts for this success.

“We are a top-tier school,” said  CU Pharmacy Dean Ralph J. Altiere, PhD. “We recognize that competition for students has increased considerably over the past few years, and that led us to undertake a reorganization to establish a marketing unit last year.”

Stellar faculty and students

A growing reputation and top-notch academic and professional programs are motivating students to apply to and attend CU Anschutz’s No. 22-ranked pharmacy school.

Hartsfield family
CU Pharmacy student Eric Hartsfield and his family

“Skaggs has a reputation within the profession that is nationally and even internationally recognized,” said Hawaii native and second-year CU Pharmacy student Ryan Sutherlan. “Other schools that I considered also had strong reputations, but I worried that they may not be able to challenge me in the way I felt CU would.”

Both Sutherlan and first-year pharmacy student Eric Hartsfield noted the campuswide Interprofessional Practice & Education program as a driver for their interest in the school.

“I believe the future of medicine is based in collaborative care and want to learn as much about it as I can,” Hartsfield said. “I have really appreciated the stellar faculty and high-quality facilities of the campus.”

And as students express satisfaction with the pharmacy school, CU Pharmacy leadership express pride in both the students and faculty.

“Our students consistently outperform other schools by winning national competitions,” Altiere said, “and our faculty are lauded nationally with education and clinical awards.”

Strategic outreach and recruitment

To build on its reputation and promote its successful programs, CU Pharmacy has centralized and fortified its recruiting, marketing and communications efforts into a six-person team led by Dana Brandorff, director of marketing, communications and alumni affairs.

The team is implementing several new tactics to reach prospective students, including a strategic database management system, a multi-pronged advertising campaign and a live chat feature on the school’s website. To complement these traditional and digital approaches, the marketing team has had in-person interactions with more than 3,000 prospective students, advisors and influencers at conferences and other pharmacy events.

These efforts have led to that 30-percent application increase, as well as a completely full 2017 incoming class for the school’s PharmD program. And now the challenge, Brandorff said, is not just attracting students but changing the perception of what pharmacists do.

“The perception is that pharmacists only dispense medications,” said Brandorff, who came to CU Pharmacy in 2009. “Today, pharmacists are on the front lines of health care – in the ER collaborating with nurses and doctors, in clinics managing diabetes or heart disease patients and at independent pharmacies compounding medications or vaccinating patients. Our job is to help the general public understand the vital role pharmacists play in health care.”

To that end, the group engages in various community outreach activities, including volunteer days at health fairs and other events; a new Speakers’ Bureau showcasing faculty, alumni and students; and a new education initiative focusing on academic advisors, faculty members, administrators and students at Colorado universities. The school also conducts live, once-a-month call-ins on 9News and creates and distributes its own video content that is regularly aired by local and national television outlets.

Ryan Sutherlan
CU Pharmacy student Ryan Sutherlan

CU Pharmacy is also helping change Colorado laws to allow pharmacists to be reimbursed for pharmacy services other than dispensing. Altiere believes this would create more opportunities for pharmacy practice and help change how the public values pharmacists.

Top-choice pharmacy school

Although changing perceptions takes time, many student perceptions are right where CU Pharmacy wants them to be.

“At CU Anschutz, I am consistently impressed and humbled to be among the ranks of the amazing student body, who are so wildly unique, brilliant, compassionate and welcoming,” Sutherlan said. “It’s like being a part of a large, extended family.”

And Sutherlan said this positive experience began before he even enrolled as a student.

“CU Pharmacy always reached out to me … which stood in contrast to other schools’ carbon-copy communications,” Sutherlan said. “I don’t regret my choice of schools at all.”

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CU Anschutz students prepare Thanksgiving meals for community

Jennifer Jones packed a turkey into a donation box and looked out over the assembly line of over 200 volunteers, including about 20 students from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

CU Anschutz student volunteers
A group of CU Anschutz students are excited to pitch in at the meal-preparation event.

The students were all smiles as they took time out of their busy schedules to help feed the community at the The Epworth Foundation event. The CU Anschutz Student Senate organized the service day.

‘Very rewarding’

“I had never done anything like this before,” said Jones, a PhD candidate in the Graduate School. “I had no idea what a huge event this was. There were so many volunteers. It was very rewarding to see how just a little bit of time can be used to help so many people and families.”

CU Anschutz student Rebecca Kretschmer
CU Anschutz student Rebecca Kretschmer empties a box of food.

The annual event commemorates the memory of longtime Denver resident Bruce Randolph, who led a tradition of feeding Denver’s neediest families over Thanksgiving for several decades. More than 6,000 frozen turkeys, boxes of macaroni and cheese, cans of cranberry sauce and many other Thanksgiving staples sat on palettes ready to be redistributed to families in need of a holiday meal.

‘This is amazing’

Like a well-oiled machine, empty boxes were transformed into a full Thanksgiving meal for families in need.

“This is amazing,” said Jillian Milke, a student in the Physical Therapy program in the School of Medicine. “As chair of the philanthropy committee in the Student Senate, I’m so happy with the turnout of students.”

When the event ran out of boxes to pack the meals in, CU Anschutz students sprang into action and used their problem-solving skills. They suggested a new packing method by repurposing unused cardboard boxes, and the volunteering was able to continue.

“It was great to work with students from different schools on campus,” said Jones. “I’ll definitely be back next year. Hopefully we can have even more students join us!”

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Film uncovers life-threatening risks temp workers face

An hour and a half into his first day on the first job of his life, 21-year-old Lawrence Daquan “Day” Davis was killed.

The story of his untimely death is the focus of the award-winning film, “A Day’s Work,” screened recently at an event hosted by the Colorado School of Public Health’s Center for Health, Work & Environment.

Screening of Day's Work at CU Anschutz
At the film screening are, from left, Sarah Shikes, Executive Director, El Centro Humanitario; David DeSario, Producer, “A Day’s Work”; and Chris Lorenzo, Safety and Occupational Health Manager, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Day Davis reported for work at a Bacardi bottling plant in Jacksonville, Fla., on Aug. 16, 2012. Looking proud in a bright orange vest and protective eyeglasses, Davis posed for a selfie in the bathroom mirror and texted his girlfriend. Later, as Davis cleaned up broken glass under a palletizer, a machine used to pack and stack products, another worker turned the machine on. The palletizer pushed cases down the conveyor belt, then onto the pallet below. That was when workers nearby heard a yell.

First responders arrived minutes later. But it was too late. Davis was already dead. He was crushed under 60 cases of bottles, weighing roughly 2,000 pounds.

Trend Towards Temp and Greater Risk

Increasingly, employers are outsourcing work to temporary workers, freelancers, and other contractors. A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found that 40 percent of the workforce in 2010 had “alternative work arrangements.” This percentage included company and independent contractors and on-call, temporary, self-employed, and standard part-time workers. And these numbers are growing.

Sadly, this means more workers are at greater risk of being injured, or even killed, on the job. Temporary workers are at least twice as likely to be injured at work compared to permanent employees, according to a 2013 ProPublica analysis.

“Research shows that temp workers are often overlooked when it comes to being adequately trained on how to do their jobs safely. They are falling through the cracks,” said Lee Newman, MD, ColoradoSPH professor and director of the Center for Health, Work & Environment on the CU Anschutz Campus.

A Day's Work film screened
A scene from the film ‘A Day’s Work.’

A former temporary worker himself, the producer of “A Day’s Work,” David DeSario, cites fear of retribution as one reason why temporary workers face higher risk.

“If a temp worker speaks up about a safety or health concern, they might not be working there the next day. Their jobs are vulnerable. They need people in the safety and health community and they need a voice through worker-run organizations,” DeSario explained.

Valuing Safety

DeSario’s film is a sobering reminder of the human cost of employer safety violations and serves as a call to action.

“The joy of this film is going back and telling Day’s family all the groups they have been able to reach,” said DeSario. “This film is about reaching people who work in public health. People who work on the ground every day and have the power to influence what’s happening out there.”

Experts at the Center for Health, Work & Environment are researching the best ways to keep workers safe and healthy, even as the employer-employee relationship changes.

“There is mounting evidence that there is a good business case for promoting healthier and safer workplaces,” Newman said. “In our ongoing research, we are establishing and testing best practices that can be readily adopted, even by small businesses, to create a happier, more engaged, and more productive workforce.”

One way to make a difference, for temporary and permanent workers alike, is to encourage employers to create a company culture where safety is a core value.

“Companies have to follow regulations and policies, but their workforce also needs to feel supported. They need to feel like the place they work, their managers, and their co-workers have their back in every instance. That is why culture is important,” said Natalie Schwatka, PhD, AEP, a researcher at the center and instructor at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Safety culture is about the employee’s perception of how much their employer values them and cares about their safety.”

Making a sound business case for why employers should invest in the health and safety of their employees can be challenging, especially for employers who rely on a temporary or contract workforce. But researchers at the Center for Health, Work & Environment see an opportunity to make a case for return on investment.

“Employers should care about all of their workers. Any safety incident results in lost productivity and damage to product, regardless of the status of the worker involved,” said Schwatka.

To learn more about the Center for Health, Work & Environment’s work and other upcoming events like their recent screening, visit

Guest contributor: Avery Artman, communications and media coordinator, Center for Health, Work & Environment, Colorado School of Public Health.

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CU Anschutz and CU Denver help residents of Denver Meadows

Brenda Gutierrez and her four children at their home in Denver Meadows
Brenda Gutierrez and her four children at their home in Denver Meadows

Virginia Visconti is always looking for ways to advance community-campus partnerships.

As the community practice specialist for the Center for Public Health Practice, Colorado School of Public Health, Visconti, PhD, identified an important collaboration to engage students and faculty, from both CU Denver and the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

And Denver Meadows residents lived right next door.

A mobile home and RV park just east of CU Anschutz, Denver Meadows houses 120 families on 20 acres. Last year, its owner sought to rezone the park for transit-oriented development, which would allow the land to be used for high-rise apartments, retail, hotels and office space.

Residents likely would have to move if the Aurora City Council approves the request. The city council tabled the proposal last July, asking the owner to secure a developer and work with the residents to come up with a plan for them before it took up the issue again. To date, there has been no council vote.

Virginia Visconti
Virginia Visconti, PhD, at Denver Meadows

Visconti’s concern for Denver Meadows residents prompted her to reach out to the community with the assistance of Andrea Chiriboga-Flor, a 9to5 Colorado community organizer, who has been working with the residents. Together, they identified community-driven efforts that would also engage students and faculty. Visconti then shared the opportunities with campus colleagues. The College of Nursing and College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications Department joined the partnership that began in November 2016 and continues today.

“I felt from the get-go we had a golden opportunity to demonstrate that CU is a good neighbor—that we care about what’s going on in people’s lives, we know we have a lot of resources and we’re eager to serve,” Visconti says. “I think that’s what we conveyed to the Denver Meadows residents. This big looming campus cares about them and paid attention to what they had to say.”

Ninety-two percent of Denver Meadows families own their own homes or are paying down loans. Many of the residents have lived more than 20 years in the park and would have no place to go if they had to leave. Aurora currently has no lot vacancies.

Chiriboga-Flor, of 9to5 Colorado, says the CU involvement will help raise awareness of housing issues affecting Aurora residents, particularly those who live at Denver Meadows.

“Having an ally and partner like the university saying we care and support this neighborhood really helps us a lot,” she says. “It’s powerful for the residents to know that there is such an interest in what’s happening to them.”

Identifing Community Concerns

Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, College of Nursing
Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, College of Nursing

For Scott Harpin, PhD, MPH, director of community engagement and an assistant professor at CU Anschutz’s College of Nursing, the request to conduct a community needs assessment was the perfect opportunity to give his students field experience.

“It was a great collaboration—we knew right away that mental health promotion was one of the main outcomes of our needs assessment,” he says. “Our students took both a microscopic and telescopic look at the community to confirm that end.”

Denver Meadows residents were “grateful to have students come down and listen to their case,” says Harpin, adding that the final assessment was delivered to the residents and proved to be an important learning experience for the nursing students.

“That’s the whole point of us being good neighbors,” he says. “While CU has so many great partnerships across the Front Range, the ones we have within the four-mile radius of our campus should be our priority.”

Service learning is an important educational tool because it helps students understand the real world—even if it’s just outside the campus, Harpin says.

He added, “It transcends educating nurses—it’s making them good citizens going forward, long after graduation.”

The goal of the community needs assessment was to give residents the opportunity to share with students the strengths of their community and help identify areas that could be improved, says nursing student Sibelle Barbosa. Students interviewed the residents and discovered a tight-knit group who looked out for each other. But questions about their housing status led residents to experience anxiety, depression and other health issues.

“We looked at the whole context,” she says. “We learned that the environment and what’s going on in their lives did affect their health and we were grateful they were open to discuss their problems.”

Barbosa, who graduates this month, says she’ll remember the Denver Meadows   experience long after she leaves campus and gets a nursing job.

“I will be a better nurse because of this experience,” she says. “It helped me understand how important it is to look at the whole person, not just their diagnosis.”

Telling the Denver Meadows Story with the Residents 

When Suzanne Stromberg, MA, a lecturer at CU Denver’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Communications Department, heard about Denver Meadows, she felt a video project documenting the stories of Denver Meadows residents would be valuable to both Denver Meadows and the students in her Theories of Leadership class.

“We had to talk about the fact that they were there to capture a story, not engineer it,” says Stromberg. “My students developed relationships with the families and were incredibly gracious and dedicated.”

Stromberg says she was struck by the willingness of faculty from both CU Denver and Anschutz Medical Campus to collaborate on the project.

CU Denver communications student Valeria Moran wanted to work with the Denver Meadows community because she grew up in a trailer park in Edwards, Colo. Her parents, who worked in the service industry in the affluent mountain community, had trouble finding affordable housing for Moran and her three siblings.

“Having grown up in a trailer park, I knew what it was like to worry about finding someplace else to live,” says Moran. “First they (Denver Meadows residents) had their guard up, but after we spent time with them, they made us feel at home anytime we came to visit.”

Moran hopes the completed video will be a powerful advocacy tool for the Denver Meadows community.

“They were brave to get on camera and tell their stories, so I really hope our work is beneficial and helps them,” she adds.

Brenda Gutierrez, a Denver Meadows resident for three years, participated in both the video and community assessment survey. She says she wants to do everything she can to save her double-wide trailer, home for her and her four children, ages three, eight, 12 and 13.

A single mother, Gutierrez still owes $12,000 on the trailer and works double shifts as a cashier at Taco Mex on Colfax Avenue, just four miles from CU Anschutz.

“It’s very stressful—I work both shifts to make extra money to pay down the trailer,” says Gutierrez, adding that she’s had panic attacks when she thinks about having to move from Denver Meadows.

She says the nursing students helped the residents with ideas on how to improve their health and manage their stress. And the communications students gave them an ability to proudly tell their stories about their homes, families, history and community.

“It was really helpful because it gave us strength that we felt we had lost,” she says. “It made us feel we could still have stable homes and keep our dreams alive.”






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CU Pre-Health Scholars Program’s Community Strengthening Project

CUPS high-school student
CUPS high school student

A select group of young adults with an interest in pursuing health careers receive an introduction to the many diverse opportunities available to them through the CU Pre-Health Scholars Program (CUPS) at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora while they’re still in middle school and high school. The program often takes the students beyond the classroom into the community providing some highly impactful experiences. A Community Strengthening Project provided by the CUPS students to the Comitis Crisis Center near CU Anschutz, in conjunction with the CU Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Inclusion and Outreach, CU School of Dental Medicine’s American Student Dental Association Colorado Chapter, CU Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences and Walgreens Pharmacy, included a pancake breakfast, along with free flu shots and take-care bags for center clients. The Comitis Crisis Center provides a safe shelter for individuals and families that find themselves homeless. In addition, the center offers visitors ways to rebuild their lives, support with family emergency housing shelter, daily meals, emergency cold weather shelter 24/7, mental health and substance abuse treatment.

The CUPS junior & senior high school students from around the Denver/Aurora metro area had the opportunity to serve pancakes, sausage, and orange juice to over 40 guests from the Comitis Crisis Center. CUPS participants played volleyball, football, and did crafts with the children.

A Walgreens pharmacist, along with two CU Pharmacy students, administered over 25 free flu shots to guests 7 years old or older.

CUPS high-school students
CUPS high school students
CUPS high-school students
CUPS high school students

Daisy Chapa, a senior from Overland High School and the CUPS class president, said, “It’s incredibly rare that students get an opportunity to sit down with homeless individuals and learn about their background and experiences.” The primary objective for the CUPS participants is to engage them in community service while learning more about the health disparities among the homeless population. In addition to flu shots and pancakes, CUPS participants gathered and donated hygiene items and created take-care bags for children, men, and women. Bags included items such as winter socks, feminine products, soap, lotion, toothbrushes and toothpaste.

Chapa continues, “I had envisioned middle-aged men with drug problems or mentally ill dependents; instead, we met families with tiny children and single parents. Some of these children were happy with their lives despite not having a home to live in or any material goods. They improvised with what they had and saw themselves as no less than anyone else, which is a mindset that even many grown adults fail to adapt to. Having the opportunity to meet with and interact with these individuals showed me to be grateful for what I have and, one day, I will work towards helping those who have fallen on hard times.”

CUPS Program Director Abenicio Rael said, “This was an eye opening experience for many of our students as well as our staff and myself. It reminded me of my own privileges and how to be aware of them before imposing them on others unconsciously.”

“The Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Inclusion and Outreach has done many wonderful things for my pre-collegiate group from exposing us to cadaver-based anatomy to professionalism in the academic world”, said Chapa. “But, the greatest thing they have ever done is remind us to be humble and human by not getting carried away with ignorance or selfishness. The pancake breakfast served as a reality check for some of us, for others, it was a reminder that we are all humans struggling to find one thing- happiness.”

Guest Contributor: Dominic F. Martinez, Ed.D., Senior Director of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus Office of Inclusion and Outreach

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The Turtle Project

Volunteers help Matthews transport donations.

Volunteers help Matthews transport donations.



As a scientist, Shawna Matthews, PhD, was used to spotting problems and searching for solutions. But when she became concerned about the people experiencing homelessness in her community, the last place she expected to find a solution was in her daily commute to work.

Shawna Matthews

Shawna Matthews

In fall 2015, Matthews began a postdoctoral fellowship researching breast cancer metabolism in the Department of Pathology at the CU School of Medicine la viagra se vende sin receta. She noticed that her new commute required her to carry a lot of stuff between home and the Anschutz Medical Campus. “I left the house every day with a minimum of four bags,” she said. “And throughout the day, I seemed to accumulate more.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum were homeless veterans visiting the Mile High Behavioral Health Center on campus. Matthews observed them struggling to carry all of their possessions. “The contrast struck me and I wanted to do something about it.”

Connecting the campus to the community

Matthews had been looking for an opportunity to engage with her new campus. Her volunteer experience up until then was limited to acting as a science fair judge. But as she encountered the vets on campus and other experiencing homelessness in Aurora, she wondered how she could help.

The solution arrived via social media. On Facebook, Matthews saw her cousin in North Dakota was offering her acupuncture clinic as a drop-off site for the Turtle Project, a campaign that gathers and distributes backpacks and bags for the homeless.

The Facebook post resonated with her. “I sensed that this project could make a difference here,” she said. “My instinct was that CU Anschutz could pool the resources (and excess bags) that we have as scientists to help a population in our immediate community.”

Carrying their homes on their backs

The Turtle Project accepts donations of bags and filler items.

The Turtle Project accepts donations of bags and filler items.

Last fall, Matthews looked into the background of the Turtle Project and learned that the campaign’s name of the campaign refers to the fact that, like turtles, people experiencing homelessness carry their homes with them. The original Turtle Project began in North Dakota, when Fargo resident Whitney Fear learned that the homeless were receiving donations but didn’t have a place to keep their things.

The relevancy of this problem struck a chord with Matthews. “Providing resources only addresses part of the problem,” she said. “People experiencing homelessness also need a way to carry their stuff, and to keep their possessions secure.”

With cooler weather and the holidays approaching, Matthews quickly organized her own Turtle Project at CU Anschutz. She put out a call for bags, personal care supplies and lightweight nonperishable food items. She connected with the Comitis Crisis Center, a division of Mile High Behavioral Healthcare, to receive the bags and distribute them to their clients.

Donate a bag, backpack or supplies to the Turtle Project

Between now and mid-January, the Turtle Project aims to collect at least 200 bags, backpacks, and suitcases.

For more information about drop-off sites on the CU Anschutz campus, or for charitable contribution tax forms, please contact

The project was a success. Matthews donated 98 bags to Comitis, whose homeless clients reported loving the bags. At each distribution event, there was more demand than supply, and those clients who didn’t receive a bag looked forward to the next delivery. Purses were especially popular. “The female clients were so excited,” Matthews said. “It’s fun getting a new purse.”

Turtle Project 2016

Matthews’ first campaign for the Turtle Project was such a success that she is organizing the project again this year. With additional volunteers, new drop-off locations, and increased storage space, she hopes to double the size of the collection. As of this writing, she had collected 35 bags in just a few weeks.

For those interested in helping, the project is soliciting donations of new or used bags, backpacks, large purses, conference bags, satchels and wheeled suitcases. These bags can be empty, or they can be pre-filled with small, useful items, such as hotel soaps, toothpaste, toothbrushes, razors, Q-tips, hats, socks, gloves, small flashlights with batteries, ponchos and lightweight nonperishable food, such as granola bars or trail mix.

Other useful donations include items that provide some entertainment, such as playing cards, pen and paper, paperback books and puzzle books. The Turtle Project accepts these filler items, which it can use to stuff empty donated bags.

Seeing the unseen

For Matthews, the project has been a way to connect with her neighbors and co-workers by sharing resources, as well as to acknowledge and help often overlooked members of the community. She’s stepped outside of her comfort zone, but the results have been worth it.

“In academia, you can sometimes feel like you are a small spoke in a very large wheel,” she said. “I think the same thing happens to the homeless. The Turtle Project is a way of saying that we see each other.”


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Student-led project benefits pre-health majors

On an October Sunday, as a crowd of people maneuvered through a maze of tables in search of their next stop, Nevan McCabe stood on the sidelines of a transformed campus gymnasium beaming. His “baby,” the first 9Health Fair ever held on the CU Denver campus, was a bustling success, attracting more than 150 people, a welcome reward for McCabe and his fellow students who worked diligently since July to make it happen.

Nevan McCabe is a CU Denver pre-health major
Nevan McCabe is a CU Denver pre-health student and vice president of CU Denver Future Doctors. He got the ball rolling for the first 9Health Fair ever held on the CU Denver campus.

McCabe first envisioned the event last spring, when he volunteered at one of the more than 130 9Health Fairs across the state to gain experience drawing blood. “I was hearing a lot of testimonials from patients who had had huge life changes and life-saving experiences,” said McCabe, a CU Denver pre-health student. “So I thought, ‘Why don’t we have one of these?’ It just seemed obvious.”

Selling his idea was the easy part. McCabe, vice president of the student group CU Denver Future Doctors, had his fellow officers and adviser, Charles Ferguson, PhD, convinced almost before he finished his pitch. One reason for the easy bite, said Ferguson: The idea captures his chief message to his students.

Screenings at 9Health Fair at CU Denver
Screenings for a variety of health conditions were offered at the 9Health Fair at Auraria on Oct. 16.

“One of the big pushes in health care today is helping students learn how to work collaboratively and understand that medicine has to be about serving the community. It’s not just about the technical aspects of healing. It’s about understanding culture. It’s about understanding the barriers that people have to getting adequate healthcare. They need to do things for people because it’s the right thing to do, not just because it strengthens their application.”

A student and neighborhood boon

Since its launch, the project has been student-led, and most of Sunday’s 80 volunteers filling the PE Event Center gymnasium were also pre-health students given “first dibs” on positions. “The medical field is starting to rotate toward a more public health-centric mindset of preventing disease instead of just treating it, and the 9Health Fair is all about public health,” McCabe said, explaining the student benefit. An Aurora native who somehow finds time for regular workouts, climbing 14ers, playing the guitar and, most recently, learning the tricks of latte art, McCabe hopes to attend the CU School of Medicine on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus and become an orthopedic surgeon.

Health care professionals from CU Anschutz were represented among the volunteers, as Kevin Deane, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine, and his team offered a rheumatoid arthritis screening.

As youngsters bared their arms for flu shots and opened their mouths for dental exams, McCabe explained the decision to include children in the fair. The campus has a relatively large nontraditional-student population with families, he said, and a significant number of area neighborhood families struggle financially. “We found that from Colfax and Speer to Colfax and Federal, the average income for a family of four was $20,000,” McCabe said.

Dental screening at 9Health Fair at Auraria
Dental screenings were among the services offered at the 9Health Fair at the Auraria Campus.

While most of the fair services are free, a few, such as the comprehensive blood test, which looks for indictors of everything from thyroid issues to heart disease, have fees. So the students added fund-raising to their long list of preparation, so that they could offer testing to some families at no charge. Marketing was also a big focus, with the group canvassing the campus and neighborhoods, dropping off flyers in English and Spanish.

Only the beginning

After all of the tables were put away and the fair-goers long gone, the students’ work wasn’t done. “It’s just beginning,” McCabe said. Quest Diagnostics, which volunteers its services for all of the 9Health Fair blood-testing, will send the students itemized data, which the students will forward to public-health researchers.  Among other things, screenings included diabetes, oral health, body mass index, vitamin-D levels, and colon, skin and prostate cancers, which will help researchers study health disparities in the region.

Also, so that the project doesn’t die when he graduates, McCabe and the student group will continue their documentation for future students, so that the fair becomes an annual event. “We’ve created a huge master list online detailing everything we’ve done,” he said. “This way, they don’t have to re-create the wheel every time.”

Ferguson definitely envisions McCabe’s brainchild enduring.  “Nevan gets the gold medal for the idea; he and his team have worked really hard. But the whole campus community just stepped right up,” he said, noting that student and staff volunteers from across campus, not just CU, have made big contributions, including from Facilities Services and the Health Center at Auraria. “9Health Fair was really excited about it, too, because they have always wanted to have something in this area. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Gazing at the big turnout Sunday, McCabe couldn’t help smiling. “It’s not just me. It takes a whole team of people. But the idea that I could even get the ball rolling on something like this that impacts a whole community in such a great way is amazing,” McCabe said. “There’s no better way to serve people than by educating them about their health. It’s kind of my baby. I’m really proud of this.”

Guest contributor: Deb Melani

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CU Anschutz speaks in support of its community

Representatives of the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, including faculty, administration and students, gathered on July 28 in the Boettcher Commons to address the impact that violent incidents have had on the nation as well as the Aurora community.

Rhonda Fields, a Democratic member of the Colorado State House of Representatives from Aurora, wanted to speak at the event but was attending the Democratic National Convention. “Our representative here in Aurora is no stranger when it comes to violence,” said Shanta Zimmer, MD, associate dean for Diversity and Inclusion at CU Anschutz. “She and her daughter are acutely aware of the pain of losing a son and brother to gun violence.” Fields sent a message of enduring hope that it is possible to overcome violence and bring about a better world. “We’ll get there. Together,” Fields said.

No matter the circumstances, the CU Anschutz community is always willing to share, listen, reflect and support no matter the circumstances, said Dominic Martinez, senior director of Inclusion and Outreach at CU Anschutz. “This institution is only as good as the people that are here,” he said. “I truly believe we have amazing people.”


A collection of faculty, staff, students and administrators listen intently to the presentation.

As a campus that provides medical care to the community, speakers emphasized how important it is that everyone takes the time to listen to emotional concerns of patients, students and coworkers in relation to recent violence across the nation.

“We recognize the impact this is having on the lives of the people around us on this campus,” Zimmer said. “The purpose of today is to take that time out to ask people how they are doing.”
The event included a reading of a list of names of recent victims of violence and a poetic recital of Langston Hughes’ poem “Let America Be America Again,” read by donnie l. betts, who Westword named to its 100 Colorado Creatives list.

Following the reading was a discussion of how violence has affected the lives of members of the audience. During closing remarks, attendees shared personal stories and offered messages of support for diversity on campus.

Also, on Aug. 18, a group of faculty and allies from CU Denver | Anschutz convened at the Lawrence Street Center’s Terrace Room to show solidarity for LGBTQ+ members of our community. This back-to-school event, sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, is an annual occasion planned by our LGBTQ+ faculty. Together, these events are part of a continuing effort on campus to support and encourage solidarity around diversity and inclusion.

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