After multiple cases of malpractice were uncovered in Colorado’s funeral industry, the state legislature passed a bill to allow inspections of funeral homes and crematories without getting an operator’s permission to enter the premises.
State senators unanimously approved House Bill 1073 on Wednesday, after the bipartisan bill cleared the House of Representatives in a 53-10 vote last month. The bill will now be sent to Gov. Jared Polis for final consideration.
“This bill comes to us under pretty horrific reasons and circumstances,” said bill sponsor Sen. Kerry Donovan, D-Vail. “There were general complaints about the behavior of these individuals that were not respecting the process of death and burial … The state did not have the ability to inspect and respond to those complaints and instead had to take many months to build a case under which they could get a warrant.”
In 2020, the owners of Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose were arrested for allegedly selling body parts, and sometimes full bodies, of deceased individuals whose families had brought them to the funeral home to be cremated. Investigators said, from 2010 to 2018, hundreds of unknowing families received ashes composed of concrete, kitty litter and the cremations of strangers.
The next year, two counties away, Lake County Coroner Shannon Kent was arrested after investigators said they found severely decomposed bodies in his funeral home — one which had been dead since 2013 and another, an infant, which was so decomposed it could not be identified. Kent was also accused of keeping unrefrigerated bodies and bags of unlabeled cremains in his funeral homes in Silverthorne, Leadville and Gypsum.
If enacted, the bill would give the Division of Professions and Occupations the power to inspect registered funeral establishments and crematories without getting an operator’s permission to enter the premises if a complaint has been made.
“This is something we all go through. This very day, our family is dealing with a very reputable funeral home, but not all are,” said bill sponsor Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. “I think it is vital that we give this bill full consideration and the families the respect they are due.”
The 10 opponents to the bill — all Republican representatives in the House — argued that the bill is unnecessary because law enforcement can enter funeral homes if they get a warrant. The bill sponsors said complaints aren’t always criminal and receiving probable cause for the prior criminal acts required entry to the premises.
The requirement that inspectors get an operator’s permission to enter is not in place for other establishments, such as hair salons and restaurants.
Original Article: gazette.com
Coroner Spotlights Domestic Violence, Homelessness, Fentanyl Crises in Annual Report
More than a third of the 61 people murdered in El Paso County last year were killed during a domestic or family violence situation.
Seven homeless people froze to death on the streets of Colorado Springs last year, and another five died from exposure to the elements from Jan. 1 through May 31 of this year.
And while youth suicides declined dramatically last year, more adolescents as well as adults are unintentionally dying from fentanyl, according to the 2021 El Paso County Coroner’s annual investigative-deaths report, released Tuesday.
“As our population grows, we’d expect to see all categories increase incrementally, but there are areas where we’ve left that trajectory,” said Dr. Leon Kelly, El Paso County coroner and chief medical examiner.
Fentanyl, a prescription pain drug, constitutes a “gross deviation” from predicted increases, Kelly said, largely because the synthetic opioid has wormed its way into many illicit street pills and often is ingested unknowingly.
That’s evidenced by the number of fentanyl-related deaths doubling for each of the past five years, he said.
Last year’s five accidental fentanyl-related deaths among children younger than age 18 surpassed the number of teen suicides last year, which fell from a record-tying high of 15 deaths in 2020 to only four deaths in 2021, statistics show.
“The big tipping point came when fentanyl went from an illegally trafficked drug to being stamped and masked as other medications,” Kelly said. “It’s easily carried, sold to kids in pills, and the cost has gone down because of the massive supply, so the barrier has been broken.”
Across the board, accidental drug-related deaths increased by 22% last year, with 107 methamphetamine deaths and 99 fentanyl deaths. Fentanyl also was found in a quarter of the meth overdoses.
Other trends that emerged from 2021 autopsied deaths:
o El Paso County saw a large increase in total firearms-related fatalities, jumping from 133 in 2020 to 167 last year.
o Homicides increased from 55 in 2020 to 61 in 2021, six of which occurred in a single mass-shooting event at a family gathering on Mother’s Day last year.
o The average age of the 78 people who died while homeless was 49 years old. Deaths of homeless during the first five months of this year are outpacing last year, with 48 deaths through through May 31.
o At least one military veteran or active-duty service member died by suicide every week in El Paso County last year.
o 58 people died in motor vehicle accidents, a decrease from 78 in 2020.
o However, 20 pedestrians and five bicyclists were killed in 2021, compared with 13 pedestrians and seven bicyclists in 2020.
o There were an additional 96 accidental deaths due to falls predominantly among the elderly, with an average age of 78.6 years, which were investigated without autopsy.
o 398 people died of natural causes, with cardiovascular disease as the top reason, causing 170 deaths, and chronic alcoholism attributed to 64 deaths.
The same type of prevention work that El Paso County has poured into reducing teen suicides needs to be deployed to counter the use of fentanyl, Kelly said.
Efforts are underway, he said, with the 4th Judicial District Attorney’s Office convening community leaders and experts to study lessons learned from youth suicide prevention that can be applied in attacking the newest threat to children’s lives.
Success in lessening youth suicides came because representatives from all sectors became part of a concerted push, Kelly said, after El Paso County ranked highest in the state and near the top in the nation for self-inflicted fatalities.
“Every conceivable youth-facing organization, from faith-based, to Inside Out (a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organization that serves youth), to schools, to parents to law enforcement to mental health professionals identifying what was going on and what they could bring to the table,” Kelly said.
Face It Together, a nonprofit that provides peer coaching for adults with addictions and support for families, has seen “a great need” and an increase in people seeking help with opioid addiction such as fentanyl, said CEO Wendy White.
The organization opened its first Colorado office last April in Colorado Springs and also offers remote services nationwide.
“The power of using peers helps remove the shame and stigma, and breaks down barriers, allowing people to share their situation and add more tools to their toolbox,” White said.
She said she’d like to see a “harm-reduction” approach with test strips provided for drug users to determine the toxicity level of pills they might ingest.
The public now can buy Narcan, an antidote for people overdosing on opioids, at pharmacies without a prescription, said Dr. Eric Stein Bronsky, an emergency medicine physician with Penrose-St. Francis Health Services in Colorado Springs. Emergency medical technicians and police also carry doses, which is easily administered in a nasal spray, he said.
Also, hospitals dispense Narcan when discharging patients who are on pain medication, Bronsky said.
“Not all opiate doses are illegal; a tremendous amount of overdoses come from prescribed medication, and Grandma or Mom or Dad stacking pain medicine, or their body having a harsher response that can send them into respiratory decline,” he said.
Because fentanyl is hidden in pain pills that look like OxyContin or Percocet, for example, and is more potent than other drugs, opiate abuse won’t abate, Bronsky believes, until it’s seen as a health care crisis and not a legal problem.
“They can arrest more dealers, put more people in jail, but until we’re willing to concentrate on what it is — a health care crisis — people won’t be willing to solve it,” he said. “People are willing to solve a health care crisis.”
Source Here: gazette.com
Defense Contractor With 200-person Office in Colorado Springs Approves Company Merger
Vectrus shareholders approved a merger with The Vertex Co. to create the new military powerhouse, V2X, a $3.4 billion revenue company to be based out of northern Virginia, Vectrus announced in a news release Wednesday.
The transaction will give Vertex shareholders nearly two-thirds ownership of the company and Vectrus shareholders one third, creating one of the nation’s 20 largest defense contractors with 14,000 employees in 300 locations worldwide.
“Today’s (Wednesday’s) overwhelming approval marks a significant step toward completing our merger with Vertex, and creating one of the leading providers of critical mission solutions and support to defense clients globally,” Chief Executive Officer of Vectrus Chuck Prow said in the release. “Vectrus and Vertex — together as V2X — will be better positioned to meet the mission-essential needs of our clients while delivering cost efficiencies, increased security and resiliency, with more strategic use of resources.”
The melding of the two companies is likely save about $20 million a year by eliminating duplicated information technology, computer networks along with “some consolidation of people,” as V2X tries to tackles a contract backlog of more than $11 billion reaching into 2027.
Vectrus’ Colorado Springs office of 200 employees that focuses on sales, finance and human resources will stay in place, Vectrus Vice President Michael Smith confirmed.
Vertex also operates an office near the Colorado Springs Airport that supports a contract the company manages at a radar station in Alaska that feeds data to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD).
Prow will become CEO, Vectrus Chief Financial Officer Susan Lynch will hold the same post in the combined company and Vectrus board members will hold six of the 11 seats on the combined board, including the chairman’s post. Vertex CEO Ed Boyington will serve on the board and remain with the combined company until retiring after an unspecified transition period.
Vectrus, which specializes in logistics, information technology maintenance and operating military bases, is slightly larger than Vertex.
Vectrus generates about $190 million more in revenue and employs 2,400 more people, mostly at military bases around the world. Vertex specializes in aircraft maintenance, systems engineering and training.
“We thank all of our stakeholders for their continued support and look forward to completing the pending combination so we can begin unlocking the incredible potential of our combined platform,” Prow said.
Wildlife Officials Warn of Possible Increase in Bear Encounters This Year
Colorado Parks and Wildlife is warning the public of the possibility of increased bear encounters this summer and fall because of late season storms that struck Colorado in May.
Bears’ diets depend on what kinds of foods are seasonally available such as grasses, berries, fruits, nuts and plants. These food sources can be disrupted in years that are abnormally dry or when there is a late frost like this year, wildlife officials said.
“We certainly see a correlation between annual failures of natural bear food sources and years with higher human-bear conflict rates,” said Mark Vieira, the state’s carnivore and furbearer program manger. “When natural food sources are scarce, as the smart flexible eaters that bears are, they tend to spend more time near humans.”
Bear encounters last year were down 28% compared to the previous two years. But encounters are expected to rise because of concerns about the late freeze that could limit food sources.
Wildlife officials said a late freeze occurred in May 2017 and led to a high conflict year where 109 bruins were relocated and 190 others were euthanized.
Mountainous and foothill areas from western Douglas County to Larimer County have already reported areas with frost damage to crops, while other forages continue to recover from wildfires, such as the Cameron Peak fire in 2020 — the largest in the state’s history.
“We have such a large fire footprint that the damage is already done as far as worrying about the soft mass production,” Wildlife Officer Shane Craig said. “I’m sure there were pockets of natural forage that survived, but we have already skated on our luck to get us past 2021.”
Wildlife officers are concerned about the number of gamble oak crops that died during the late season freeze. The crop produces acorns that become a vital source of food for bears as they prepare for winter and are in hyperphagia where they consume 20,000 calories a day.
Wildlife officials said nearly all emerging gamble oak crops above 6,800 feet in western Douglas County died in the late season freeze, but chokecherries and plums survived.
“We’ll be okay for the short (term), but in the 7-8 years I’ve been in my district I’ve never seen an oak dieoff like this,” Wildlife Officer Melanie Kaknes said in a news release. “The bears will have to figure out something because they have to put on weight for the winter. This dieoff (is) going to be pushing bears down in elevation and likely into towns.”
In western Jefferson County and eastern Park County, officials are concerned about the status of higher elevation crops.
“It is too early for me to know how things will pan out for the higher elevation stuff,” Wildlife Officer Dawson Swanson said in a news release. “On the good side we are getting some moisture that we desperately need, let’s just hope things did not freeze up high.”
Most adult bears survive year-to-year even if there is poor food availability.
Wildlife officials reminded residents and visitors to be aware of their surroundings and follow proper guidelines on living appropriately with bears.
These guidelines include:
Keep garbage in a well-secured enclosure.Only put out garbage on the morning of pickup; bring empty cans inside before dark.Use a bear-resistant trash can or dumpster. These are available online or from your trash hauler.Clean all garbage cans regularly to keep them odor free. The scent of ammonia can also deter bears.Take down all bird feeders. Bird feeders are a major contributor to bear/human conflicts and resulted in 1,073 conflicts between 2019 and 2021. Don’t leave pet food or stock feed outside.Install and test electric fencing to protect chicken coops, bee hives and livestock enclosuresKeep garage doors and windows closed and locked
For additional information about bears and guidance, click here.
Original Source: gazette.com
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