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Help looks different during pandemic

By Richard Cox

Almost overnight, life seemed to stop for many local residents. The threat of coronavirus, and a series of county and state measures aimed at preventing COVID-19 from overwhelming hospitals, drastically changed nearly everyone’s work or social routine.

But while many things did stop, local health-care needs continued. And some needs even grew more critical. Here’s how some Health District programs rushed to make changes to provide the community with a variety of services that can help people through these challenging times.

Health insurance enrollment  |  Mental health & substance use support  |  Prescription assistance  | Dental emergencies

Health insurance enrollment

Larimer Health Connect • 970-472-0444 • 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., M-F

Larimer Health Connect's Trudy Herman explains health insurance optionsIt started March 16 with a governor’s order for restaurants to end dine-in service and for many other businesses, including theaters and bars, to close. As more non-essential businesses were temporarily shuttered to help slow the spread of coronavirus, layoffs grew.

Along with their jobs, many people lost their health insurance or a means to pay for the health coverage they had.

Suddenly phones were ringing at Larimer Health Connect, the Health District program that provides free help signing up for lower cost health coverage from Health First Colorado (Medicaid) and Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+), as well as private plans from the Connect for Health Colorado marketplace that offer financial assistance.

The program now faced a crush of newly unemployed residents seeking health insurance. But new rules for social distancing made it impossible for staff to provide their usual one-on-one appointments.

A system was soon set up to funnel incoming calls to Health Coverage Specialists working from home. Staff are now able to help people get enrolled in Medicaid, CHP+ or Connect for Health Colorado plans entirely by phone appointment or videoconferencing. If a person requires a videconference for their assistance but lacks a computer or internet access, Larimer Health Connect offers in-person office appointments that allow people to videoconference with staff from a separate room, still maintaining a safe distance.

A lapse in health coverage leaves people financially vulnerable while risks from coronavirus persist, so Larimer Health Connect recommends people seek out new insurance quickly, especially if they want a plan from the Connect for Health Colorado marketplace.

“For anyone looking at a marketplace plan, it’s very important they act quickly after losing their employment,” says Rosie Duran, team supervisor at Larimer Health Connect. “There is a 60-day window during which they can enroll in a new plan. Otherwise, they’ll need to wait for open enrollment in the fall.”

In addition, Connect for Health Colorado has extended until April 30 a special enrollment period. Coloradans who are currently uninsured or about to lose coverage due to COVID-19 are able to get health insurance for 2020.

Mental health & substance use issues support

Connections Adult Team and CAYAC • 970-221-5551 • 8 a.m. – 8 p.m., 7 days a week (Temporary hours during the pandemic)
SummitStone Crisis Support, 970-494-4200, ext. 4

One of the biggest impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic may be invisible. Many will struggle to cope emotionally as they live through a completely unprecedented time. For those already struggling with mental health or substance use issues, the challenge may be especially difficult.

Fortunately, Larimer County has a collaborative Mental Health Disaster Response system already put to the test by the High Park Fire in 2012 and the flood of 2013. It is ready for the challenge of COVID-19.

The Connections program at the Health District is designated as the community resource for non-crisis behavioral support. The program has an Adult Team and a Child, Adolescent, and Young Adult Connections (CAYAC) Team that serves youth up to age 24 and their families.

“These are challenging times as we all adjust to this new ‘normal,’ ” says Kristen Cochran-Ward, director of behavioral health services. “We understand that people are struggling with increased anxiety, depression, and significant loneliness. These reactions are completely normal in an abnormal time. Our Adult Team and CAYAC Team are here to help.”

Accustomed to serving people by phone, appointment, and walk-in visits, Connections also turned to a remote model. Staff working from home field calls from an anxious public, answering questions, providing support, giving referrals, and doing brief therapy sessions via telehealth. There is no charge for pandemic-related support services. If needed, the Connections Team response can expand with the help of the Crisis Counseling and Resilience Enhancement (CARE) Team which includes community mental health providers trained in disaster response.

SummitStone Health Partners is meeting the community’s crisis support needs by phone at 970-494-4200, ext. 4, and through its Crisis Services Center at 1217 Riverside Avenue.

People don't have to face the challenges alone; help is a phone call away.

Prescription pill bottles and moneyPrescription assistance

970-416-6519 • 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., M-F

Filling prescriptions is a challenge for many local residents during ordinary times. Almost one in 10 residents of the Health District skips medications because they can’t afford it, according to the most recent Community Health Survey.

With many more people now likely to lose health coverage at least temporarily, the Health District’s Prescription Assistance program is available to help people get the medicine they need to stay healthy.

When affordability is a barrier, the program helps people get their medications at reduced cost/free when possible. Often times people are not aware of other options that are available that may help to reduce the cost of their prescriptions. Staff can help people of all incomes to see if they can find lower-cost options for their prescriptions. Financial assistance may also be available for district residents with limited incomes and without health insurance, or whose medications are not covered by insurance.

By phone and mail delivery, the program aims to keep filling this critical health-care gap.

Emergency dental needs

Family Dental Clinic • 970-416-5331
By appointment • 8 a.m. – 4 p.m., M-F

There is never a good time to have a dental emergency, but they happen—even during a pandemic.

To reduce possible spread of coronavirus, the Health District’s Family Dental Clinic suspended routine dental care in mid-March. It remains open by appointment to see patients who have a dental emergency—including pain, swelling, or bleeding—and who do not have acute respiratory symptoms or a fever.

Normally, the clinic provides a full range of acute, preventive, and restorative dental services to  Health District residents who lack dental insurance, have limited income, or are covered by Medicaid, CHP+ or the state senior dental plan.

While the clinic is open to treat true dental emergencies, staff have been able to triage many more patients over the phone, minimizing unnecessary trips to the clinic. It also gives patients a chance to speak directly to a dentist, get their questions answered, receive expert advice, and gain some peace of mind during an uncertain time.

“We hope to get back to serving all of our patients’ needs as soon as we can,” says Dana Turner, director of the clinic. “Once we’re fully operational again, patients with highest priority dental treatments will be rescheduled so they can be completed with as little delay as possible.”

COVID-19 Information and Resources

Larimer County Department of Health and Environment

  • (Follow the link for COVID-19 Information)
  • Joint Information Center
    9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m., M-F
  • Text questions to: 970-999-1770
    Response typically received within 4 hours during the day.
  • Get texts with the latest information related to COVID-19 in Larimer County:
    Text COVID19LC to 888777

United Way of Larimer County

  • – Includes local information on family resources, food assistance, medical assistance, mental health resources, senior support, small business support, unemployment resources, and utilities/rent assistance

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Tips for coping with COVID-19