Palliative Care in San Miguel County

San Miguel County can be a challenging place to live.  Winter comes early in parts of the county and, in good years, overstays its welcome well into spring, with large snowfalls in April and May; icy roads and sidewalks is a fact of life.  Much of our county is at an elevation of over 6,000 feet, challenging the lung capacity of even our most fit citizens.  While we are fortunate to have two great medical clinics in the county, inpatient hospital beds, surgical facilities, and higher level emergency care is a long drive over mountain passes.  Most of us are transplants here and family is often far away; many of us create new families from our circles of friends.  Finally, our county covers over 1200 square miles, from its Eastern edge atop Imogene Pass to the western border with Utah; it is remote, sparsely populated, and beautiful.

While these challenges can be overcome, and for some they are the reasons many choose to live here.  For some of our residents, however, these challenges can begin to mount and challenge their ability to continue to live here.  Specifically, our 50+ population and, with longer life spans more common in 2019, our citizens who are in their 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.  For most of us, we want to continue to live out our days in place and not be forced to relocate to lower elevations, larger cities, or distant shores.

Tri-County Health Network’s Palliative Support Program is one way to help individuals both age in place and, for other members of our community who may have suffered an injury, heal in place.  This program is designed to help both our older community members stay in their homes as they age, and all community members recover from injuries in their homes. 

To accomplish these goals, the Palliative Support Program has several different programs.  First, a group of volunteers from the community are available to help with short-term needs to get people back on their feet after injury or illness.  This might include grocery shopping, dog walking, driving to appointments, or even just friendly visits to provide companionship or relief for caregivers. 

Second, the program has available certain medical equipment (known as “Durable Medical Equipment”) that is available to be loaned out to community members at no cost.  This includes crutches, walkers, mobility scooters, portable toilets and wheelchairs.  Third, TCHNetwork can coordinate LYFT rides for qualifying individuals for non-emergent doctor appointments in Telluride, Ridgway and Montrose, as well as help individuals connect with the Regional Medical Shuttle for scheduled appointments.

Fourth, TCHNetwork can work with hospital discharge planners and local nurses who work as Home Health Nurses, to provide nursing services through the area provider, PASCO.  TCHNetwork can help connect individuals and families returning to the community to services in the region.  TCHNetwork is the local organization that is contracted with Region 10, the Area Agency on Aging,  to provide information about resources for seniors 60+ under the Aging and Disabilities Resources of Colorado program.

Finally, through several grants TCHNetwork is able to offer teletherapy to individuals in our community.  For community members over the age of 50, 6 free visits are offered.  Individuals seeking behavioral health services now have a convenient, anonymous, and effective means of connecting with Colorado-licensed behavioral health therapists from convenient locations, including their own home.

All of us want to continue to enjoy the benefits of life in San Miguel County.  When we are recovering from an injury or illness, we might need some additional help from the community—the Palliative Support Program can provide that help.  When we are comfortably past the age of collecting social security (62+), and our health insurance is through Medicare (65+), and we want to stay in our homes, the Palliative Support Program can help to provide those additional supports to allow that to happen.

Paul Reich, Behavioral Health Programs Manager

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