Columbine celebrates; adds new NP

mike and cathy   Barbara Lawlor, Nederland. Time flies when you are adjusting people.

As in putting vertebrae back where they should be.

Catherine Valen opened her chiropractic office on September 20, 1988. Saturday will be the 26th year since she took a chance that her chiropractic therapies would have a place in Nederland, a small mountain town.

Moving into an upper bay in the shopping center, where Dot’s Diner is now, was a big risk for Valen. At that time, Tom Hartleb ran a sub shop in the space behind Valen. Moving into the shopping center was one of those serendipitous happenings. Catherine knew another chiropractic who had moved into the space, set up an office and had to move away, She asked Catherine if she wanted to buy the business for $12,000 and take over the space. The typewriter was thrown in.

“My first patient was Shakira Ballin,” remembers Valen, “And she has stuck with me all these years. When I first moved in I was scared. People told me that businesses had moved into the shopping center and then moved out. No one lasted very long.”

But the community was friendly to Catherine even though many didn’t understand the chiropractic therapy. The high school athletes and miners came in, asking her to help their strained muscles and sore joints. Drillers from Canada showed up to work in the mine and Catherine would keep her doors open until the miners got off work and came barreling down the mountain to get fixed.

“They would strip to their skivvies in the doorway,” she laughed, “because they were covered with rock dust and didn’t want to bring it into the office. Families were going in and out of Village Video, which was next door and I always wondered what people thought about the near naked miners standing outside.”

At the time, the Coast to Coast Hardware Store was in the lower level bays.
cathy shooting mike

At the end of her lease, Catherine decided she wanted to be in her own space and she moved to the bright blue building at the intersection of the roundabout. She purchased the building in 1995 and worked there until 2012 when she moved into Columbine Family Health Center in the shopping center where her husband, Mike Camarata, is the physician.

She says both of them have ended up doing after hours and weekend emergency work. They see patients before church on Sunday. It is a small town, says Catherine, and people can always find us. The two of them also treat each other. At least, he can tell her if she needs to see a doctor and he will take the Chinese herbs that she recommends for a cold.

On October 1, Dr. Mike Camarata will celebrate his fourth year of serving the medical needs of the community. It hasn’t been an easy four years. Initially, many residents had a hard time accepting the fact that Camarata was issuing marijuana licenses for medical reasons. He was issuing many of them. “I needed some way to keep the clinic open financially, to be able to help people who needed care but had no money.”

When the marijuana prescriptions began to exceed the medical board’s policies, Camarata’s own license was in jeopardy and after a hearing he was allowed to continue his practice but not allowed to issue marijuana or narcotic prescriptions. It was touch and go for awhile, but the business has been steadily growing.


Camarata says that in the past four or five months, patients have become unhappy with the health care offered at Mountain Family Health in Black Hawk. Now many people with low incomes are able to receive medical care through the Affordable Care Act.

“But it is still hard to find specialists willing to take care of people on Medicaid,” says Mike. “But over the past four years specialists have come to know me and have helped my reputation.” Camarata shrugs and says, “I have a business to run, but I would take of people for free if I had to.

Along with Camarata’s family practice and Catherine’s chiropractic work, Columbine boasts a couple of massage therapists and an acupuncturist. The latest addition to the team is Nurse Practitioner Marri Collom, who will run her own business out of the Columbine facility. Camarata likes to think of the business as a medical cooperative, each of them lending credence to the work of the others.
marri and mike

Collom grew up in a rural setting in South Lyon, Michigan, appreciating the natural world around her and the science involved in her 4-H projects. She attended college at Arizona State, earning an exercise physiology degree and then a nursing degree from Phoenix. She then studied for her master’s degree at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, becoming a rural health specialist, with credentials as a Nurse Practitioner. She started her graduate training while her daughter was in college. She is now a grandmother.

Collom says her husband Ted and she always dreamed of a rural life but their careers had tied them to big cities. For the past two years they have explored the Internet, looking at different parts of the country, finally narrowing it down to Colorado. Then they began looking for a more specific area, but were becoming discouraged. “We thought it wasn’t going to happen; our dream place doesn’t exist.”

When they saw the listing for a Twin Sisters home near Nederland they flew out to take a look, knowing it was their last effort.

“I looked around and knew there was no other place I wanted to be,” says Collom. The couple moved in October, with Ted going back and forth for his engineering job and Collom settling into a clinic in Federal Heights, putting in long days. She had always wanted to be independent, and when she met Camarata, he encouraged her to go for it and offered her space in his facility.

Collom said she couldn’t have done this without Camarata’s support and offer of his lab and equipment. She opened her door on this past Monday and will offer everyday health care for common ailments.

“I know people who are going to Broomfield for health care and don’t want to go there anymore. We hope to bring these people into our practice. Also, women often prefer female health care providers.”

Collom says she bases her philosophy on human caring, not just a prescription-therapeutic relationship. “We are the medicine and it is our job to respect each person.”

Dr. Camarata and Collom discussed their  philosophies towards health care, figuring out how much care they could provide if they had the amount of money an insurance CEO gets as an annual bonus. They agree that health care is a basic human right. Collom says that one of the biggest bankruptcy factors is not having medical insurance after retirement.

“Health care isn’t like auto mechanics or lawn furniture,” she says. “There are people attached to the problem and we have to try harder to fix mistakes.

Collom’s office will be open Monday through Friday, 9-5, subject to change when she sees what the needs are.


Barbara Lawlor

Barbara is a reporter for The Mountain-Ear.