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ECHO Colorado Announces Leadership Transition

The ECHO Colorado board of directors announced today that John “Fred” Thomas, PhD, will succeed Tim Byers, MD, MPH, as Director of ECHO Colorado while Duane Pearson, MD, will serve as the program’s new associate director starting immediately.

Byers retired last month after a distinguished career at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus that began back in 1995.  Most recently, he served as Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, Director of the Rocky Mountain Public Health Training Center, Director of ECHO Colorado, and professor of Epidemiology in the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz. In addition, he has served as the Deputy Director of the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

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John “Fred” Thomas, PhD, will succeed Tim Byers, MD, MPH, as Director of ECHO Colorado

“During the past few months, our board and management team have worked diligently together to prepare for this change in leadership,” said Byers. “Our goal has been to ensure a seamless transition and I am honored to announce Fred’s elevated role and the addition of Duane to the leadership team.”

Byers continued, “Working with Fred for the past few years on the ECHO Colorado program development, I have seen his passion for developing meaningful community health outcomes through the use of tele-enabled connection and building innovative models of care delivery.”

ECHO, or Extension for Community Health Outcomes in Colorado, is a statewide professional education initiative aimed at connecting health workforces to topic experts to increase access to specialty care and expert knowledge.

 

Tim Byers, MD, MPH, retired last month after a distinguished career at CU Anschutz that began in 1995.

For over 15 years, Thomas has been a healthcare innovator and social entrepreneur.  Prior to arriving in Colorado four years ago to lead the telehealth efforts for Children’s Hospital Colorado, he had over a decade of service and innovation at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB), where he was Director of Community Based Mental Health Services and Policy.  In that role, he led the development of a regional telehealth-based pediatric system of care recognized as a national model. Thomas received his doctorate from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston; his Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Texas at Austin; and his Bachelor of Business Administration Degree in Finance from Texas State University.

As Director of ECHO Colorado (ECHO-CO), Thomas looks forward to working with the ECHO-CO team along with Pearson to integrate ECHO methodology into innovative care delivery and population health efforts. In addition, he is committed to providing a robust evaluation of ECHO-based models of education, capacity building, and care delivery.

Duane Pearson, MD, new associate director of ECHO Colorado.

“ECHO is best described as a model of providing health professionals with applicable knowledge and collegial support to effectively manage complex chronic and public health conditions within their own practices and communities,” Thomas said. “It has become a widely accepted model of care collaboration. And as private and public sector support for the ECHO model builds, health care entities will begin to recognize the foundational role it serves. Value-based healthcare demands improved cost effectiveness and care received in the right place, at the right time, and in the manner that best suits a patient’s needs. ECHO will be essential in driving improvements in cost, quality, and outcomes”.

Thomas continued, “It has been an honor to work with Tim on the development of this statewide initiative and I look forward to sharing the vision with Duane as associate director. His passion for the development of new clinical pathways that may improve efficiency and decrease healthcare disparities made him a promising fit for the new leadership role in ECHO Colorado.”

Dr. Duane Pearson is Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.  He currently serves as the practice director for the CU School of Medicine’s Rheumatology practice. After completing his residency and fellowship in Rheumatology at the CU School of Medicine, focusing on translational research programs in lupus, he moved to Ventura, California to further explore healthcare delivery in a medically underserved population. At the Ventura County Health Care Agency, he served as the Medical Director for Specialty Services, where his main focus was the coordination of care transition between a large primary-care network and a robust specialty panel. Currently, he is also a member of the Clinical Leadership Council’s Subcommittee for Ambulatory Referrals, participating in the Community Health Assessment Grant steering committee, sitting on the Aurora Health Care Access Specialty Task Force, and partnering with CORHIO and HCPF for an e-Consult pilot project to improve specialty care access for Medicaid participants.

“Fred and Duane offer significant combined experience in innovative care delivery models and passion for building capacity in Colorado’s health workforce,” said Lilly Marks. “We look forward to supporting ECHO Colorado as the leadership team undergoes this transition.”

Marks serves as Vice President for Health Affairs for the University of Colorado and Anschutz Medical Campus as well as a member on the ECHO Colorado board of directors.

 

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Consortium takes lead on studying climate change effects on health

A group of University of Colorado scientists are taking a leadership role to investigate the effects of climate change on health, which has emerged as a dominant issue of this century and beyond.

They are launching education, research and community partnerships with a clear aim: safeguard human health.

Dr. Rick Johnson of CU Anschutz

Richard Johnson, MD, Medicine-Renal Medicine Diseases, SOM, is a founding member of UC4Health.

UC4Health (University of Colorado Consortium on Climate Change and Health) has already brought together more than 20 faculty members at CU Anschutz, CU Denver and CU-Boulder to study the broad effects of climate change, including waterborne, foodborne and vector-borne diseases.

Only a handful of academic institutions have responded to the issue, said Richard Johnson, MD, professor, Medicine-Renal Medicine Diseases, School of Medicine (SOM) and a founding member of UC4Health. He said CU’s deep and diverse spectrum of health experts and scientists – physicians, climatologists, anthropologists, immunologists, epidemiologists, pediatricians, geneticists, physiologists and more – sets the institution up to be a strong leader in the field.

‘Banding together’

“Climate change and health is a neglected field despite the fact that the climate is actively changing on us,” says Johnson, pointing to recent data that shows January and February were the planet’s warmest months on record. “Here at CU, we have a grassroots movement in that physicians and scientists are banding together to address the problem.”

The group applied for a School of Medicine Transformational Research Funding grant last fall, proposing a Clinical Center for Climate and Health. While the grant was not selected for final inclusion, it created the environment for faculty from disparate research areas to come together to tackle problems around climate change and health. By operating as a consortium, members say, the group can take a broader approach to its trifold mission of research, education and partnerships.

Rosemary Rochford of CU Anschutz

Rosemary Rochford, PhD, professor of Immunology-Microbiology, SOM, and Environmental/Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health, is the leader of UC4Health.

UC4Health leader Rosemary Rochford, PhD, professor of Immunology-Microbiology, SOM, and Environmental/Occupational Health, Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), emphasizes that the group is not looking into the causes of climate change, but rather the health effects from it.

A key question, is ‘How do research and academic institutions develop the next generation of scientists to deal with this problem?’ “The educational piece is huge, and it has to be interdisciplinary by its nature,” Rochford says. “Instead of reacting to what’s already been studied, I think we should be leading the field.”

‘A fantastic step’

David Goff, MD, PhD, dean of the ColoradoSPH, says planetary health was a major topic of discussion at a recent Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health conference. “The concept is similar to what our folks are working on in the consortium,” he says. “It’s the idea of safeguarding both human health and the natural systems that underpin it.”

Membership in the consortium is open, and the group anticipates that as the UC4Health gains recognition, it will bring more faculty into this important research arena. For more information, contact Rosemary Rochford at Rosemary.Rochford@ucdenver.edu

While the past century has seen tremendous improvements in human health, Goff says, other activities have put stress on the planet by degrading the soil, oceans and atmosphere. The question for this century and beyond, he says, is ‘How do we sustain our current status and improve human health while at the same time not degrading the planet?’

Goff is among the CU Anschutz leadership team that supports the consortium, saying UC4Health demonstrates yet another way CU innovates and collaborates with partner universities for the greater good – in this case, a more comprehensive approach to planetary health. “This is a fantastic step to focus on the importance of climate in human health and ecosystem health, in terms of the plants and animals we share the environment with,” he says.

A few examples of UC4Health progress so far:

  • Education: Rochford; Elizabeth Carlton, PhD, MPH, assistant professor, Environmental and Occupational Health, ColoradoSPH; and Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor, Emergency Medicine, SOM; received approval for a “Climate and Health” course to be offered this fall in the ColoradoSPH at CU Anschutz. Lemery and Christopher Davis, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, SOM, will teach “Introduction to Polar Medicine” in Greenland – “Nobody’s done anything else like this,” Lemery says – over a week in August.
  • Research: Three main research themes are envisioned: metabolic diseases, disaster medicine, and infectious diseases. The consortium plans to host at least two international/national leaders in climate and health next academic year.
  • Community partnerships: In the Transformational Research application, the group received letters of support from a diverse array of leadership from government agencies as well as local community partners. The Aspen Global Change Institute invited UC4Health to conduct a conference this September.

Consortium research will focus on understanding the effects of climate change on human health and then develop tools, policies and the necessary workforce to monitor, adapt and mitigate those effects.

Sarah Horton of CU Denver

Sarah Horton, PhD, associate professor of Anthropology, is a CU Denver member of the consortium.

Consortium member Sarah Horton, PhD, associate professor of Anthropology at CU Denver, says environmental topics “will only increase in importance” this century, such as how climate change is transforming the landscape of diseases. She investigates the growing occupational risks faced by outdoor workers amid unpredictable and rising summer temperatures. For example, there have been 13 confirmed deaths among farmworkers between 2005 and 2014 in California alone due to working in the heat.

‘A matter of environmental justice’ 

Heat illness also interacts synergistically with chronic disease such as hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, Horton says. New investigations – including research conducted by Johnson and others in the consortium – suggests that chronic heat exposure may play a role in kidney failure, helping to explain the epidemic of chronic kidney disease of unknown origin affecting agricultural workers in Central America.

Such research can lead to workplace interventions and public policy, according to Horton. “The consortium can play an important role in helping mitigate the effects of heat stress faced by vulnerable populations,” she says. “This is a matter of not only pressing research but also environmental justice.”

Opportunities for collaboration

Rochford says there are ample opportunities in Colorado for investigator collaborations – not just among the campuses, but also with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Representatives at the Centers for Disease Control have also expressed support for the consortium.

“At the end of the day, we have to not only identify the diseases that are being affected by climate change, but also how to help people,” Rochford says. “This consortium illustrates a link between those diseases and the way people can be helped, and the ways their health can be improved.”

UC4Health will also investigate local environmental implications of climate change, such as how high-performing Colorado athletes are affected by climbing temperatures.

“Addressing this health problem requires a multidisciplinary team,” Johnson said. “What’s exciting is that the University of Colorado has expertise in these fields and is developing leaders and innovative programs to move the field forward.”

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Only about half of suicidal patients asked if they have access to firearms

Despite national guidelines urging emergency department doctors to ask suicidal patients if they have access to firearms or other lethal implements, only about half actually do, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The researchers interviewed 1,358 patients from eight emergency departments (EDs) in seven states who had either attempted suicide or were thinking about it.

“We asked the patients about their access to firearms and then reviewed their charts,” said the study’s lead author Emmy Betz, MD, MPH, from the University of Colorado School of Medicine.  “We found in about 50 percent of cases there is no documentation by the doctor that anyone asked the patients about firearms access. That means there is a large group of patients we are missing a chance to intervene for.”

Some 25 percent of potentially suicidal patients who said they had guns at home kept at least one  of them loaded and unlocked. Half of them had easy access to guns which put them at risk for future suicides.

According to the study, published in the latest edition of `Depression and Anxiety,’ emergency departments are a key setting for suicide prevention with 8 percent of patients admitted for either attempting suicide or having `suicidal ideation’ or thoughts of ending their own lives.

“Multiple ED visits appear to be a risk factor for suicide and many suicide victims are seen in the ED shortly before death,” the study said. “Based on models using national suicide statistics, ED-based interventions might help decrease suicide deaths by 20 percent annually.”

Still, previous studies suggest that ED doctors are skeptical about the effectiveness of such intervention and do not ask or counsel patients about their access to lethal means of ending their lives once they leave the hospital.

This study seems to confirm that.

“This rate of assessment falls short of national guidelines recommending that all suicidal patients receive counseling about reducing access to firearms and other lethal means,” Betz said. “Lethal means assessment is important for both overall risk assessment and for safety planning for patients being discharged.”

While it is difficult to control access to sharp objects, supplies for hanging and medication given their widespread availability, patients with easy access to guns are at an especially high risk.

Those who commit suicide often do so minutes after making the decision. And approximately 90 percent of firearm suicides are fatal compared to 2 percent of medication overdoses.

Betz said doctors could make a plan with the families of these patients. They could ask them to lock up firearms or remove them from the house for a period of time.

Some doctors are reluctant to ask patients about this because they don’t know if they should and if they do, what to do with the information.

“It is legal and appropriate to ask about this when it is relevant as it is in the case of suicide attempts or suicidal ideation,” Betz said. “Do it in a respectful, non-judgmental way and it will usually be well-received. Still, there isn’t a lot of training on this. As a result, we are missing the chance to save a lot of lives.”

The study was funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.

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Wilderness Medicine Series draws huge interest

A packed house. People interested in the outdoors – as well as staying safe when they venture into the wild – showed up in force for the launch of a Wilderness Medicine Series at the Liniger Building at CU South Denver.

Wilderness Medicine launch at CU South Denver

A large crowd turned out for the Wilderness Medicine Series launch event at CU South Denver.

In front of a crowd of 200, Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine in the CU School of Medicine, and wilderness medicine instructor Todd Miner, Ed.D., recently gave a snapshot of the innovative series that starts this spring. The program includes three courses at CU South Denver, as well as evening film events and educational travel experiences.

‘Energy and enthusiasm’

Wilderness Medicine program at CU South Denver

Participants in the Wilderness Medicine Series will learn important skills on how to stay safe when venturing into remote areas.

“There was a lot of energy and enthusiasm,” said Lemery, who is also section chief of of the Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the SOM’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “It was clear we hit the right demographic group. Now it’s a matter of building a successful program.”

Natural fit for wilderness programming

The Liniger Building at CU South Denver houses a unique wildlife museum, and the architectural design and materials used in the building enhance and support a sense of the great outdoors.

The location is perfect for wilderness medicine programming. “You walk in that building and outdoors stewardship and education is all over the place,” said Jay Lemery, MD, CU School of Medicine. “The stuff we do is very accessible to the public, and it fits with the Liniger Building’s theme (of outdoor education), so it was a natural fit. We’re there to run a great series of courses and to think what else could work there.”

The community events portion of the Wilderness Medicine Series features two film screenings, each with featured speakers. The films are “Tales from a High Altitude Doctor” on March 15, and “Climate Change & Human Health” on May 4. For more information, click here. For information about the adventure/educational trips being offered, click here.

“The launch of the Wilderness Medicine Series,” said Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, “points to the possibility that CU South Denver could be a location that propels educational innovation and collaboration – contributing in a unique way to the excellence of CU.”

Already, there is a class for almost everyone – both healthcare professionals looking to better apply their skills in the backcountry, or people wanting to learn winter survival basics and first aid, or seeking a primer on safe practices in remote places and developing nations.

Miner, education director for WEM, said programs like this bring the medical world to the outdoors in an evidence-based way. “Whether it’s a family going camping in the Rockies or somebody doing an expedition in the Himalayas, we’re excited about making the bridge between medicine and wilderness,” Miner said.

The non-degree Wilderness Medicine Series:

In each class, students will receive a SOM certificate and, in the case of Advanced Wilderness Life Support, they will also earn continuing medical education (CME) credit hours accredited by the Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education. All classes take place over three days and are taught by expert medical faculty from the CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

“We picked courses we thought were good for all learners,” Lemery said. “They’re a way to learn how to mitigate risk in the outdoors, and they’re fun.”

Also, a Polar & Mountain Medicine course is going to be run at 11,000 feet on Chicago Ridge, outside of Leadville.

‘Practice pure medicine’

Lemery and Miner have always gravitated to the outdoors – a place they get to combine two of their biggest passions. “I call it the art and science of taking care of people in remote and austere places,” Lemery said. “I’ve always thought it’s a very exciting way to be true to medicine.”

While health care in the United States has become technology dependent, Lemery said, most places across the globe don’t have access to similar levels of technology. “Wilderness medicine gives us a way to practice pure medicine – the way it’s done in the majority of the world. Also, it’s an outstanding vehicle for education. It has its hands in wilderness, global health and disaster response. It’s very creative. You have to teach people to think beyond the algorithm, outside the box.”

Creative collaboration

WEM at CU Anschutz offers destination trips

The Wilderness & Environmental Section in the Department of Emergency Medicine offers adventure trips to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations.

Joann Brennan, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs at CU South Denver, said the student-centered program emerged from a creative collaboration between Lemery and Miner’s team and CU South Denver. “The program was designed for learners of all ages and skill sets, with multiple entry points – courses, community events, and travel study experiences,” she said. “In addition, we wanted to leverage the unique assets of the Liniger Building – outdoor spaces, classrooms and movie theatre – into program offerings.”

Lemery said the Wilderness Medicine Series will help measure demand in South Denver for new programming as well as cross-promote wilderness medicine and educational travel opportunities already offered by WEM. WEM currently offers CME trips for all comers looking to combine medical education with travel to some of the planet’s most spectacular destinations – including Costa Rica, Patagonia, the Colorado Rockies and Greenland. The latter, the site of an Introduction to Polar Medicine course this August, is one of its newest offerings, the result of WEM being awarded a prestigious subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services in Greenland.

The collaboration will continue as Lemery and Miner’s team works with the CU South Denver team to develop a K-12 wilderness and environmental medicine curriculum that could integrate into the outdoor and K-12 educational programs currently offered at the Liniger Building. This kind of programming is a perfect fit for CU South Denver, as the Liniger Building is a four-campus location that provides educational opportunities for the entire learning lifecycle.

“It just goes to show how outdoor-oriented Coloradans are,” Miner said of the excitement generated by the Wilderness Medicine Series. “They recognize these are important skills. If you’re going to play outside, you want to have the ability to take care of yourself and family so you can come back in one piece and go out and do it again.”

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High school students get look at health care careers

CU Anschutz researcher Tamara Terzian

Tamara Terzian, PhD, a Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and CU Cancer Center researcher, assists high school students with their DNA extraction as part of a shadow day at CU Anschutz.

Eyes widened among the high school students when Neil Box, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology in the CU School of Medicine, held up ultraviolet (UV) images of faces – their faces – that showed sunburn damage lurking under the surface of their skin.

A lot of dark splotches indicated a history of intense sun exposure to the skin. Faces with few splotches indicated that the student has practiced good sun safety – i.e. faithfully applying sunscreen.

Twenty-two high schoolers from the Career Education Center (CEC), a high school in Denver Public Schools, visited the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus on Thursday for a shadow day that offered close-up insight into research and healthcare-related fields. A group of 20 other CEC students enjoyed a CU Anschutz field trip earlier in the month.

CU Anschutz Assistant Professor Neil Box

Neil Box, PhD, an assistant professor of dermatology, explains his research team’s study into genes involved in predisposing a person to melanoma during a shadow day at CU Anschutz.

Box and Tamara Terzian, PhD, who are investigators in the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine and the CU Cancer Center, along with support from Christian Valtierra, assistant director in the Office of Inclusion and Outreach, led the tours on both occasions.

‘Genuine sense’ of lab work

Before the students broke into two groups – touring separately, each group visited the Box and Terzian melanoma research labs in Research 1 North as well as the Gates Center for Regenerative Medicine – Box explained that they would see actual cutting-edge research being performed. “We want to give you a genuine sense of what it’s like to work in a research lab,” he said. “A lot of the things you are going to see today have provided the evidence basis for the current standard of practice in much of the health care field.”

One of the students, Jose, said he had no idea that this level of research took place at CU Anschutz. “I just thought it was a normal school on this campus,” he said. “I like how they look at your DNA and try to figure out if you have any diseases.”

He was in the group that made its first stop in the DNA extraction and UV activity laboratory. The students donned lab coats then learned how to perform their own cheek swab. They each produced a research-ready DNA sample and had their facial picture taken by the UV imager.

High school students visit CU Anschutz lab

Students from the Career Education Center sit for ultraviolet images of their faces in a melanoma research lab at CU Anschutz as part of shadow day.

Subjects for a current Box-led study into molecular signatures of lifetime UV exposure went through a similar process. The research has determined which genes are involved in predisposing a person to skin disease, such as melanoma. “Your history of sun exposure and your DNA determines your damage score (or predisposition level),” Box said. “What the students are seeing here for their career experience is within the context of our real, ongoing research. This study isn’t even published yet. We’re working on the analysis and getting it finalized for publication right now.”

‘This experience is relevant’

The CEC students are in a biomedical class and recently completed a unit on DNA, including extraction of DNA from a strawberry. But the CU Anschutz tour took their understanding of genetic coding to another level – a very visual level.

“Health care careers hinge on what goes on in the research lab, so we think having this experience is relevant to them in a lot of ways,” said Box, who also recently spoke at CEC. “Hopefully, today’s shadow day will inform them when it comes to making their own career decisions.

“Also, by coupling the research with our sun safety message, we hope to inform them about good, healthy behaviors,” he said.

Jose said the tour was “cool” as well as eye-opening. “I’m interested in doing autopsies and forensic research,” he said.

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High school football helmets offer similar protections despite prices

Despite prices, promises and even ratings systems, all helmets approved for high school football players appear to offer similar protection against concussion, according to a new study from the Colorado School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus .

“All of the approved helmets evaluated in our study performed similarly,” said Dawn Comstock, PhD, senior author of the study and associate professor of epidemiology at the Program for Injury Prevention, Education and Research (PIPER) at the Colorado School of Public Health. “Increased cost does not necessarily translate to improved safety.”

The study, the first national football concussion research evaluating how helmets performed when worn by young athletes playing the game rather than how helmets performed in laboratory impact testing, also found that older, reconditioned helmets performed similarly to new helmets as long as the reconditioning was done in a timely manner.

The researchers examined high school football concussion and helmet data collected from 2008-2009 through 2012-2013 as part of the National High School Sports-Related Injury Surveillance System, High School RIO (Reporting Information Online), directed by Comstock.

They found that participating schools reported 2,900 football concussions per 3,528,790 `athletic exposures’ (AE) or one athlete participating in one practice or competition. That came out to an overall rate of 8.2 concussions per 10,000 AEs.

When comparing concussions sustained by athletes wearing different helmets, the researchers found the average number of concussion symptoms, symptom resolution time and time until the injured athlete was released to return to play were similar among football players wearing the most common make and model of helmet.

Dawn Comstock, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Anschutz

Helmets that were not new but which had been reconditioned within the 12 months prior to use, performed similarly to new helmets. But players wearing old helmets which had not been recently reconditioned suffered longer concussion symptoms than those wearing new helmets.

The data indicated that helmet rating scales may be somewhat misleading to parents or schools considering helmet purchases as higher ratings based on laboratory testing did not necessarily correlate to increased protection “on the field” for high school football players.

“We found helmets with high ratings performed similarly to helmets with lower ratings,” Comstock said. “At the same time, the most expensive helmet did not appear to provide significantly increased protection compared to less expensive helmets.”

The study found that as long as the helmets had a NOCSAE or National Operating Committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment seal, a National Federation of State High School Association requirement for high school football, they provided similar protection.

Comstock said parents can play an active role in ensuring that the football helmets worn by their children are safe by asking how long it has been since a helmet issued to their child has been reconditioned.  Parents should insist that their schools are following the reconditioning guidelines of manufacturers.

“Many parents don’t think to ask if the helmet issued to their child is new or previously used or, if not new, when it was last reconditioned,” Comstock said.  “Parents should be asking questions and not assuming that the helmet assigned to their child is safe.”

The study was published online this week in the American Journal of Sports Medicine.

 

 

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Alice Deanda celebrates 50th anniversary with CU

Alice Deanda, program assistant in the Department of Pathology, began working at University of Colorado Hospital (UCH) in 1966 and was honored for her years of work with the University of Colorado on Feb. 4.

“When I started working we used typewriters, carbon paper and mimeograph machines to make copies,” Deanda said. Sometimes she would have to walk the paperwork to another department, which was one of her favorite parts of the job. While her workplace has gone through drastic changes with the introduction of technology such as the computer and UCH’s 2007 move from Ninth Avenue to the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, her personal life also changed when she took over as her mother’s primary caregiver.

Alice Deanda and Gary Brown of CU Anschutz

Alice Deanda with Gary Brown, a colleague in the Department of Pathology. Photos courtesy of Lisa Litzenberger.

Deanda retired from her position in the Department of Pediatrics Section of Infectious Diseases in 2000 but continued to work part time after that. She began working in the Department of Pathology in the CU School of Medicine in 2008.

“I’ve always liked working at the university. I’ve never thought about going to work anyplace else,” she said. “As long as I can walk into work, I’m coming in. And I’m 75.” She also enjoys the 20-mile drive to work and has never found it difficult.

Praise from colleagues

Deanda’s coworkers all have overwhelmingly positive things to say about her.

“Alice is remarkable for her reliability, expertise and professionalism,” said Ann Thor, MD, chair of the Department of Pathology. “She is a joy to work with. We have enjoyed knowing her large family as well.”

Deanda’s supervisor, Matt Bilby, assistant administrator for the Department of Pathology, first met Alice when he began as a student worker in the Office of Grants and Contracts in 1990 and was later responsible for connecting Deanda to the Department of Pathology.

Alice Deanda at CU Anschutz

Alice Deanda is joined by colleagues for her 50th anniversary celebration at CU Anschutz.

“When I first started here as a student worker it was a very close-knit community,” Bilby said. “In the time she has worked for pathology and me, that same sense of community has always continued.”

“I like to brag that I’ve been around for 16 years in the Department of Pathology, but it doesn’t even come close to touching the amount of time Alice has worked for (the university),” Bilby said.

Deanda found that it was difficult to get a promotion early in her career within a single department. “I kind of kept moving with the increase — let’s put it that way. If I could get an increase, I moved. Or, if I couldn’t get one, I moved.”

In the last 50 years, Deanda has worked with many people and has seen coworkers come and go. She has been with the Department of Pathology longer than any other single department and is quick to make impressions on co-workers new to the workplace.

“I’ve only known Alice for the last couple of months, but she’s a very warm and welcoming person,” said Rose Segawa, accounting manager. “I really enjoy working with her. We got along right away.”

Adapts to many changes

Deanda takes care of her mother, who is 93 years old and has dementia. Her sister, Josie Ponce, acts as a caregiver during the two days Deanda works at CU Anschutz. Other family members often fill in when necessary or to provide a break.

“In 2011 I moved my mother in with me because she wasn’t eating and couldn’t take care of herself anymore. She didn’t have dementia at the time,” Deanda said.

Shortly after the move, her mother broke both hips. “From then on,” Deanda said, “her mind started to go, where she doesn’t remember who people are, but physically she is very healthy.”

“The thing that I really appreciate, especially with this department, is that they are flexible in letting me work when I can. If my sister can’t come to the house to take care of my mother, I can’t come to work,” Deanda said.

Deanda’s time spent at work are “the only 16 hours of her life that she isn’t taking care of her mother,” Segawa said. “I commend her to be able to adapt to all the changes CU has gone through.”

Deanda said she is a “real Colorado native” and wouldn’t choose to live anywhere else. When she isn’t working, she enjoys cooking from scratch and spending time with her family, particularly on special occasions like Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve. She also enjoys shoveling her own walkway when it snows.

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Study finds association between indoor tanning and substance abuse

Researchers from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have shown an association between indoor tanning and substance abuse among Colorado high school students.

“A growing national body of evidence links indoor tanning with other risky health-related behavior among adolescents,” said study author Robert Dellavalle, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

The study, which appears online today in JAMA Dermatology, says the motivation behind indoor tanning offers clues to why it is also tied to other risky behaviors.

Dr. Robert Dellavalle, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

Dellavalle, who also practices at the Denver Veterans Affairs Medical Center, said people tan for both psychological and physiological reasons.

“For example, indoor tanning and use of steroids may both stem from the motivation to enhance one’s appearance,” he said. “Data also implicate addictive physiological pathways in indoor tanning that may be similar to those of substance abuse.”

Research has shown that indoor tanning can release endorphins in users that can be addictive.

The study used the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey of health data from Colorado public schools. A total of 12,144 students answered the question, “During the last 12 months, how many times did you use an indoor tanning device such as a sunlamp, sunbed or tanning booth?”

The analysis showed females were almost twice as likely to engage in indoor tanning as males. Researchers also found that any lifetime use of steroids was the variable most strongly associated with indoor tanning, especially among males.

“Any alcohol consumption within the prior 30 days and marijuana use were also associated with indoor tanning, as was lifetime use of select illicit drugs,” the study said.

Dellavalle said indoor tanning is potentially dangerous. The World Health Organization has deemed UV radiation as a group 1 carcinogen putting users at a higher risk of melanoma, basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma.

“Risky behaviors tend to go together,” Dellavalle said. “So someone who does indoor tanning may more easily move on to other risky behaviors like illicit drug use.”

The researchers urged physicians treating those who use indoor tanning to consider assessing them for steroid use, especially if the patient is an adolescent male. They also said parents should get involved.

“If you are a parent and your child is tanning,” Dellavalle said, “you should also check for drug abuse.”

The study co-authors include Myra Sendelweck, ME, of CU Anschutz, Eric Bell, PhD, Amy Marie Anderson, MPH, Kurt Ashack, BA, Talia Pindyck, MD, Cate Townley, MURP, MUD.

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CU brings medical expertise to extreme outpost

Big House and Green House at Summit Station in Greenland

The Big House and the Green House (science laboratory) at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

The Wilderness and Environmental Medicine Section (WEM) in the CU School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine is taking its expertise in wilderness and austere medical care to one of the most extreme and remote places on Earth.

In December, WEM won a subcontract grant from the U.S. National Science Foundation to provide field health care services at Summit Station in Greenland. Summit Station is a global research facility perched at 10,500 feet atop the Greenland ice sheet.

Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and section chief of WEM, said providing medical services at Summit Station allows WEM to “think outside the box” in an unpredictable environment.

“It’s basically the art and science of taking care of people in remote and extreme environments,” he said. “It forces us to think in very creative ways. How do we take 21st century medicine and apply what we know to these places where you don’t have the technological tools to do what we do on the CU Anschutz Medical Campus?”

Researcher at Summit Station

A researcher releases a weather balloon at Summit Station. Photo by Kevin Hammonds.

WEM honed its expertise in remote medical services by holding the EMS medical directorship for the U.S. Antarctic Program for two years. In Greenland, the CU WEM bid was selected over various applicants, including private industry, for the subcontract, which lasts for a year with an option for renewal. Support at Summit Station is provided by CH2M HILL Polar Services, under contract to NSF.

Four services for Summit Station

In Greenland, WEM will be in charge of four phases of service:

  • Remote medical support services and supplies for Summit Station;
  • 24/7 telemedicine services;
  • First aid medical support services; and
  • Training in arctic first aid and wilderness first responder/aid.

Lemery said people are more frequently venturing to extreme places across the globe, and the expertise of WEM faculty – in altitude sickness, frostbite, hypothermia, trauma treatment and other wilderness care – uniquely positions WEM to serve these travelers, as well as advance remote-setting health care.

“We have that niche in the health-care world,” Lemery said. “Greenland is a robust place to test best practices in medicine – to see what works, what doesn’t work. We’re also training people to be outstanding clinicians anywhere in the world. Most of the planet doesn’t have the medical tools like we have at CU Anschutz. These are important lessons to bring home to our students and residents.”

David Twillman, RN, University of Colorado Hospital, will staff Summit Station during the high season of roughly April to August. During the winter months, WEM will provide medical services via telemedicine.

‘Quite a bit of altitude sickness’

Christopher Davis, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, led WEM’s application for the Greenland subcontract and will serve as medical director for the operation. He said adjusting to high altitude is the most common health complaint of the researchers, who spend weeks to months at a time at Summit Station. “Most researchers are coming from sea level and they fly directly to 11,000 feet, so you see quite a bit of altitude illness,” Davis said.

Davis, who is also medical director of Altitude and Mountain Medicine Consultants, a branch of the Travel, Expedition and Altitude Medicine Clinic, plans to visit the Summit Station this spring to ensure that the medical equipment is up to date. During the summer high season, about 50 researchers live and work at the station. In the winter, fewer than 10 people live at the facility, according to Davis. Much of the research conducted at the facility focuses on climate and weather.

The Big House at Summit Station Greenland

The Big House at Summit Station, Greenland. Photo by Ed Stockard.

Greenland’s polar environment and growing medical needs made Summit Station a perfect fit for WEM’s service-oriented approach to health care.

“Our department chair, Richard Zane, MD, has been very supportive of us being entrepreneurial and extending the reach of our medical expertise to far afield,” Davis said. “This is also in line with the university’s research mandate.”

Although no specific CU SOM Greenland-based research has yet been approved, Davis said, “there will be the opportunity for us to study altitude and also study health care systems and how and whether telemedicine support is effective in this type of extreme environment.”

Unprecedented course

Another opportunity that Summit Station provides: Teaching an unprecedented course in one of the most dramatic locations on the planet. Lemery and Davis together will teach “Introduction to Polar Medicine” over a week in August. Students will receive three hours of credit for the accredited course, as well as a Wilderness First Aid certificate.

“We’ll talk about climate change and health and provide wilderness medicine education,” said Lemery, who co-edited the book, “Global Climate Change and Human Health.” “It’s pretty unorthodox – nobody’s really done anything else like this.”

The course is designed for pre-health students and will take place in the town of Ilulissat, Greenland. “We think it’s going to be an awesome opportunity for students,” Lemery said. The deadline to register is March 15, 2016; click here to register or for more information.

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CU Anschutz students create Care Kits for homeless

Care Kits Team

Care Kits Team

Students on the Anschutz Medical Campus aren’t waiting until graduation to apply the lessons and skills they are learning in classrooms and clinics. Second-year medical students Kelly Finnegan and Cece Johnson-Sasso have already begun leading fellow students in helping the homeless survive cold weather and hunger.

When Finnegan first started at the CU School of Medicine, she was surprised at the number of homeless community members she saw on the streets in and around Denver and Aurora. Then, she worked on a research project in the emergency room at the Denver Health Medical Center and was inspired to find a way to make a difference.

“Working on that research I saw first-hand, and for the first time, the effect of the cold on people who didn’t have shelter,” Finnegan said. “The frostbite they suffered was extremely painful and I thought that no one should have to experience that.”

Kelly Finnegan

Kelly Finnegan, School of Medicine



Ready for those in need

Her experience gave birth to the idea of Care Kits during the winter of 2014-15. Finnegan and Johnson-Sasso gathered donated personal care items like shampoo and toothpaste along with socks, hand warmers and nutritious snack items. They also collected money to buy some other essentials. Once everything had been collected, they recruited other students to help them pack it all into individual kits, which also included bus tickets and information about shelters, clinics and meals.

To ensure that the kits would be available to any who needed them, student volunteers stashed kits in their cars and backpacks, ready to give them away whenever they saw someone who could use help. The 50 Care Kits assembled were distributed in less than four months.

Johnson-Sasso gave several kits to patients when she was working in the emergency room at the University of Colorado Hospital.

“One day I pulled one out of my backpack and gave it to a patient who’d been found unconscious in front of a coffee shop,” Johnson-Sasso said. “He was a regular in the ER and when he regained consciousness, I told him about our Care Kit project. He told me he was touched that we had taken the time to think about ‘people like him’ and said that we had made his day. Moments like that make me feel that something as simple as our kits can have a positive impact. And, that’s a good lesson for those of us studying to be future healthcare professionals.”

Care Kits team

Practicing compassion

Johnson-Sasso and Finnegan continued their Care Kit project in 2015, with 26 students assembling more than 200 kits containing donated socks, handwarmers, washcloths and 100 pounds of health and hygiene items and snacks.

Although the two women didn’t know what to expect when they co-founded the Care Kit project, they knew there had to be a way that they and their classmates could help. They learned that things as simple as socks, hand warmers and information about clinics can make a world of difference. They also confirmed that their instincts as future health care professionals are on target.

“We are going to see homeless members of our community throughout our careers,” said Finnegan. “The sooner we can gain empathy and understanding for the situations they face, the better we will be able to serve them in the future.”

Donations to the Care Kit project and volunteers are welcome year-round.

Guest Contributor: Marcia Neville, Communications Manager, Division of Student Affairs

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