In ten days, guess what happens? Santa Claus will be making his annual house calls all over the world!

Led by a red-nosed reindeer named Rudolph, Santa’s deliveries will be guided by the many “Letters to Santa” he gets every year — one of which is coming from me.

First of all, it’s important to say “Thank You” for last year’s gifts.

The citizens of Cochise County were very supportive of the various social agencies which help individuals facing the various challenges of life. Support through the tax credit program was one of the things we asked for in last year’s letter, and it appears this wish was granted for many organizations.

Lest we think this was just a one year request, hopefully tax credit contributions will be made again this year to organizations such as the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul, Wellness Connection, Lori’s Place, ViCap and the many other social service groups here in Cochise County. You can find a complete list of this year’s agencies at azdor.gov/tax-credits.

Another thank you is for the service and leadership of Kathy Calabrese who led Good Neighbor Alliance (GNA) for so many years. GNA is our community’s homeless shelter which is often referred to as the “bottom of the community safety net” and provides more services than just a “roof over someone’s head.” Serving a dinner meal prepared by volunteers every evening, GNA also helps individuals navigate some of the complex issues faced by the homeless. Kathy is now enjoying retirement, and we should say, “Kathy, thank you for your service…you made a big difference.”

Turning to this year’s Christmas season, there are several items that really would be nice to have.

First of all, it would be great to see the work on addressing mental health problems come to fruition next year. Mental health issues are often discussed; agreement is reached that something should be done — but then nothing happens.

The collaboration project started by the Legacy Foundation to develop county wide mental health services is now under the direction of the county health department; hopefully this project will make meaningful progress by next year. Maybe Canyon Vista Medical Center can establish outpatient services for those individuals in need as an extension of its psychiatric service.

Another necessary action is stopping the attempt to strip food stamps (SNAP) from needy individuals.

A report was recently published that indicated over 30,000 Arizonans would lose SNAP benefits if states are prohibited from waving eligibility requirements as they now can. Food insecurity in Cochise County is a real problem that would be exacerbated by this change.

And Santa — another major food project needs your help and support. The Salvation Army is planning to take its food bank program one step further. Many people can get foodstuffs from the food banks, but because of age or physical limitation cannot prepare a meal for themselves. The Salvation Army is initiating a program that will distribute prepared meals to those individuals who cannot do so — let’s actively support it.

Not to neglect our “friends” in Congress, there’s also an item on our wish list for them too — universal healthcare

Senate and House Democrats have introduced several pieces of legislation this year to establish universal health care, and now we need to make this legislation bi-partisan.

One piece of legislation which appears to have merit is the State Public Option Act.

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) and U.S. Representative Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) have reintroduced this legislation to create a Medicaid-based public health care option to strengthen the Affordable Care Act.

“Our bill will unlock each state’s Medicaid program to anyone who wants it, giving people a high-quality, low-cost public health insurance option,” said Senator Schatz.

So, Santa …that’s it for now….may all our residents have a Merry and healthy Christmas.

Lanny A. Kope, EdD has been a hospital trustee for over forty years, serving on urban and rural hospital boards. He is the past Board Chair of Sierra Vista Regional Health Center and has had a national responsibility as Chair of the American Hospital Association’s Committee on Governance. Dr. Kope is also a University of Phoenix faculty member in healthcare.

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