While still a relatively young state, Colorado’s population of residents age 65 and older is expected to grow at a faster rate than the national average in the years ahead.

Under a tight brainstorming deadline, a group of 85 students tackled the topic of “Healthy Aging: Maximizing the Independence in Colorado’s Aging Population” at the third annual Rocky Mountain Region Public Health Case Competition held at CU Anschutz. All schools and colleges at CU Anschutz were represented in the competition, including students in the Colorado School of Public Health (ColoradoSPH), Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Nursing, School of Medicine, Graduate School and School of Dental Medicine. Students also represented schools and colleges at CU Denver, including the School of Public Affairs and College of Architecture and Planning. Undergraduate students in public health at CU Denver participated, as well as students from CU-Boulder and Rocky Vista University.

Winners at regional public health case competition.
Team No. 5 finished as top winners in this year’s public health case competition. Team members are, from left, Theodore Warsavage, Jenny Niemann, Kaeli Barrett, Megan Spradling and Christa Timmerman. Photo by Chris Harris.

The students were randomly separated into 15 teams of four to six members each and given 24 hours to formulate programs and interventions that would help ensure independent, healthy lifestyles for Colorado seniors.

The first-place winning team presented a care program for the 8,000 seniors living in the San Luis Valley. The population in the six-county region of south-central Colorado is almost 20 percent senior citizens (65 and older) – well above the 14 percent nationwide – yet only served by three hospitals, the team pointed out. The team formulated a comprehensive approach made up of technology-based care, caregiver support networks, community health workers and a community coalition to address the physical, emotional, social and intellectual needs of elderly residents. Rural areas generally have the highest proportion of senior residents, the team noted.

“We know there are good support systems for older people, but access to those systems is what we’re trying to provide,” said team member Christa Timmerman. “So our approach is to integrate what’s already available and how we can get that out to the local level. …We see this as a pilot project that could be implemented in rural areas throughout Colorado and the nation.”

‘Great for the students’

final-round judges for public health case competition
The final-round judges panel for the competition is made up of, from left, Sen. Larry Crowder, Sen. Pat Steadman, Jean Nofles, Cindy Bryant, Larry Wolk and David Goff, dean of the Colorado School of Public Health. Photo by Chris Harris.

Three teams advanced as finalists out of Saturday’s preliminary round; they presented their proposals to a six-member panel of judges in Education 2 South. After each 10-minute presentation, the teams fielded questions from judges.

Taking second was a team that presented “Silver Connections: Bridging the Gap Between Aging and Independence,” and placing third was a team whose idea centered on “The TIIME Study: Technology Increasing Independence using Medical Electronics.” The team that presented “HUG Life” won the people’s choice award.

Each member of the first-place team won a $1,000 scholarship; second-place, $500 scholarship; third-place, $250 scholarship; and people’s choice, $100 each.

The event is organized and presented by students, who also raise funds to hold the competition every year. The co-presidents of this year’s planning committee – Brandi Vollmer and Teresa Nguyen, both second-year MPH students in public health at CU Anschutz – thanked everyone who volunteered as well as the judges and sponsors.

Nguyen said it’s impressive to see students working together from different disciplines to address one of Colorado’s top-priority health issues. “It’s great for the students because they get the experience,” she said. “And it’s great for the judges and the professionals in the community who get to gather ideas that are new and up-and-coming in education.”

‘Applies to the real world’

Vollmer, a participant in last year’s competition, said the event promotes camaraderie while giving exposure to other disciplines. “It applies to the real-world setting because people have to deal with other disciplines when they deal with these complex issues,” she said.

Matt Albright and Grace Undis
Team No. 9 presented a technology-based solution for healthy aging. Presenters included, from left, Matthew Albright and Grace Undis. Photo by Chris Casey.

The judges’ panel included David Goff, MD, PhD, dean of the ColoradoSPH; Larry Wolk, MD, MSPH, executive director and chief medical officer of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment; Jean Nofles, MPA, interim state volunteer president for the AARP; Sen. Pat Steadman; Sen. Larry Crowder; and Cindy Bryant, PhD, recently retired from the Department of Community & Behavioral Health at ColoradoSPH.

Goff said the judges had a difficult task in choosing a winner because “all the groups were up to date and knew the information about the challenges facing the aging population in Colorado.”

He said it was impressive to see the comprehensive ideas – including implementation strategy, budget and evaluation components – that students put together in a short amount of time. “We think these ideas all could go forward and have benefit for the aging population and we encourage you to continue to pursue them,” Goff said.

Names and school/college affiliations of the winning participants (they are candidates for the degrees listed):

First Place Team 5

Kaeli Barrett – University of Colorado, Denver, Undergraduate Program in Public Health – BA in Public Health

Jenny Niemann – University of Colorado, Denver, College of Architecture and Planning – MURP, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Environmental & Occupational Health

Megan Spradling – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – Certificate in Public Health Sciences

Christa Timmerman – Colorado State University, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Global Health and Health Disparities

Theodore Warsavage – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Biostatistics

Second Place Team 15

Team 15 at public health case competition.
Team No. 15 finished second in the public health case competition. Here, they make their presentation on “Silver Connections: Bridging the Gap Between Aging and Independence.” Photo by Chris Casey.

Nima Beheshti – Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine – DO

Christina Colalancia – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Epidemiology

Dayna DeHerrera – University of Northern Colorado, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Community Health Education

Jessica Peiker – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, College of Nursing – BS in Nursing

Third Place Team 9

Matthew Albright – Rocky Vista University College of Osteopathic Medicine – DO

Cody Glickman – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Graduate School – PhD in Computational Bioscience

Sarah Nelson – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Graduate School – PhD in Cancer Biology, University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, School of Medicine – MD

Adriana Romero – Colorado State University, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Global Health and Health Disparities

Grace Undis – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Community and Behavioral Health

Leslee Warren – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MS in Epidemiology

People’s Choice Award Team 8

Abby Eno – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, College of Nursing – BS in Nursing

Natalie Murphy – Colorado State University, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Epidemiology

Jamal Noshahi – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, College of Nursing – BS in Nursing

Zar Phyo – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Colorado School of Public Health – MPH in Community and Behavioral Health

Laura Pultorak – University of Colorado, Anschutz Medical Campus, Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences – PharmD