Howdy, it's Wednesday!

πŸŽ‚ Happy birthday to our Axios Denver member Sara Langston! Consider joining Sara and contributing to our mission-driven journalism by becoming a member. You'll support our growth and in return get exclusive perks.

βš–οΈ Situational awareness: The final trial in Elijah McClain's death begins today. Opening arguments in the joint trial of two paramedics charged in the 2019 incident are scheduled for this morning.

Today's newsletter is 929 words β€” a 3.5-minute read.

1 big thing: Colorado struggles to cut unneeded medical care

Lalit Bajaj, left, an emergency medicine doctor at Children's Hospital Colorado, with fellow emergency physician Julia Fuzak Freeman. Photo: Courtesy of Austin Day/Colorado Children's Hospital

Health care providers in Colorado are ordering ineffective treatments and tests at a startling rate, driving up costs for payers and complications for patients, a new report finds.

Driving the news: Colorado payers β€” including patients, insurers and the government β€” spent $134 million in 2022 on low-value care, according to the Center for Improving Value in Health Care, a Denver nonprofit.

  • The study found the estimated cost of the services is a fraction of the total services provided with little value, some of which can disrupt appropriate care.
  • The most charged services were prescriptions for opiates and multiple antipsychotics, and screenings for vitamin D deficiency, KFF Health News reports.

Why it matters: Extraneous medical procedures are a key driver of higher health care costs, and the analysis shows that Colorado's decade-long efforts to curb them aren't working.

The big picture: The U.S. health system pays doctors based on how much care they provide, regardless of whether it's needed. And patients question when they don't receive extensive treatment.

  • "One of the hardest things to do in this work is to align financial incentives," Lalit Bajaj, an emergency physician at Children's Hospital Colorado, told KFF, "because in our health care system, we get paid for what we do."

Inside one hospital

2. πŸ“° Our local news deserts are growing

Local news outlets, by county
Data: Medill Local News Initiative; Note: Includes newspapers, public broadcasting outlets, ethnic media outlets and digital sites that cover local news; Map: Simran Parwani/Axios

Colorado's local newspapers are declining more rapidly than predicted, a new study finds, creating deserts void of trustworthy and nonpartisan news.

Why it matters: Multiple studies show the closure of newspapers leads to political polarization, lower voter turnout, fewer political candidates and economic costs.

By the numbers: Colorado has lost 32 local newspapers since 2005 β€” 12 in the last five years, according to a report from Northwestern's Medill journalism school. That's a 22% decline.

  • Three of the state's 64 counties β€” Conejos and Costilla on the southern border and Cheyenne on the eastern border β€” have no local newspaper, while 32 others have just one.

The intrigue: A separate report from the Colorado Media Project issued in September casts an even more dire picture, finding 19 newspapers in Colorado shuttered in the last five years.

Full story

3. πŸ“Ί Small town cult the focus of new HBO series

An image from "Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God" on HBO. Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros Discovery

They called her Mother God.

What to know: That was the moniker for Amy Carlson, who led a religious group in Crestone β€” about three hours southwest of Colorado Springs β€” called Love Has Won.

What's new: Her story is chronicled in the HBO docuseries "Love Has Won: The Cult of Mother God," which premiered earlier this month.

Details: Carlson was a self-professed deity whose followers believed had been reincarnated multiple times, living past lives as historical figures like Cleopatra and Joan of Arc.

  • The online livestreaming she used to spread her message is included in the series, along with interviews with her followers and family members.

The big picture: Carlson, 45, was in poor health shortly before her death, and a coroner's report said she died from a combination of anorexia, alcohol abuse and chronic colloidal silver ingestion.

The intrigue: Some members alleged Carlson was abusive, per the Denver Post. The group's beliefs combined elements of Abrahamic religions, conspiracy theories and spiritualism, according to the Alamosa Citizen.

  • Her followers believed her death would lead to a UFO evacuation and, ultimately, to human salvation, according to HBO.

Share this story

4. Mile Highlights: Acquitted officer back on duty

Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard during an arraignment at the Adams County Justice Center in January. Photo: Andy Cross/The Denver Post via Getty Images

πŸš“ Aurora police officer Nathan Woodyard β€” who was acquitted by a jury on homicide charges for placing Elijah McClain in a neck hold β€” returned to duty as required by the city charter and will receive $212,546 in back pay. (Sentinel)

πŸͺ“ Semiconductor company Broadcom's $69 billion merger with VMWare is leading to 184 layoffs in Colorado. Both companies have locations in Broomfield. (DBJ πŸ”’)

🚨 The four people who were found dead outdoors in Denver this past weekend likely died from drug overdoses. (Denver Post πŸ”’)

🍲 Sap Sua in Denver made Esquire magazine's list of the 50 best new restaurants in America. (Esquire)

πŸš— Denver Mayor Mike Johnston had his car stolen last month amid a rise in auto thefts. His vehicle has since been recovered. (9News)

🏈 Sean Lewis, the offensive coordinator for the CU Buffs, is expected to be hired today as San Diego State University's new head football coach. (Axios)

Stay booked and busy

πŸ“… Upcoming events around the city.

2023 Colorado Food Summit at Stockyards Event Center on Dec. 7:

This event will bring together food and agriculture stakeholders from across the state to help build shared understanding of the complex opportunities and challenges facing our food and agriculture systems. $0-$185.

Hosting an event? Email [email protected].

5. 🦬 Buffs couldn't hold the hype

CU Buffs quarterback Shedeur Sanders is sacked by Oregon Ducks players at Autzen Stadium on Sept. 23 in Eugene, Oregon. Photo: Tom Hauck/Getty Images

It started like a dream but ended like a nightmare for the Buffs.

Flashback: Seeing Colorado on the national stage was inescapable in September after beating a ranked TCU team on the road, before edging rivals Colorado State and Nebraska at Folsom Field to start off 3-0.

  • Leading the surge in shiny gold shades was Coach Prime.

Yes, but: What had once felt like college football's biggest comeback story β€” the Buffs won a single game in 2022 β€” morphed into a cautionary tale as the team hobbled to a 4-8 finish, losing its final six games.

But, but, but: The Buffs improved their win total from the previous season, managed to sell out Folsom Field for every game, and had merchandise flying off shelves β€” all indicators the program has returned to relevancy.

What they're saying: "We got our butts kicked twice this year out of 12 games … every other game, other than that, we had a shot β€” and I think that's progress," coach Deion Sanders said after the loss at Utah.

  • Last season, 10 of the team's 11 losses were by at least 23 points.

What's next: The Buffs' run in the Pac-12 is over as they join the Big 12 next season.

Our picks:

πŸ“Ί John is updating this holiday movie list, so send favorites I've missed.

πŸ₯― Alayna is grabbing bagels from Call Your Mother, her husband's fave, to celebrate his work anniversary today. Congrats, Dave!

🏈 Esteban is reading this fun story on the Denver Broncos and "Scorigamis."

Thanks to our editor Ross Terrell and copy editor Bill Kole.