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January 16, 2013
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Vail hospital boss touts progress

VAIL, Colorado - Vail Valley Medical Center is poised for some big steps in the near future.

Speaking at an annual luncheon Wednesday at the Sonnenalp, medical center CEO Doris Kirchner talked about the center's recent achievements and future plans. Those plans no longer include working with the Steadman Clinic and its associated business on a joint project with the town of Vail. The Steadman Clinic pulled out of that project in November, essentially scuttling a plan to build a new medical office building and new town hall on the site of the current municipal building.

Despite that, Kirchner said the medical center will start work next week on planning the future of the existing Vail campus. Those future plans will include relocating the medical center's emergency department, ways to establish a permanent helipad for use by air ambulances and ways to get emergency vehicle traffic off West Meadow Drive.

That's going to be tough without the extra space in the town/Steadman deal.

"We have to look at the what-ifs," Kirchner said. Some of those what-ifs might include moving some of the medical center's services down valley. But, she added, "The CEO's office will always be on the main campus."

Asked by an audience member what the medical center will do with the money it had committed to the joint project, medical center chief financial officer Charlie Crevling said "we have plenty of uses for those dollars," which could go toward staff or other improvements to the medical center.

During her presentation, Kirchner ran through an extensive list of the medical center's 2012 accomplishments. As you might expect from a former emergency room nurse - her first job at the medical center when she arrived in 1980 - Kirchner pointed with pride to the infection rate in the hospital.

In 2012, that rate was .29 percent. That's well below the national average of 2 percent, and a drop even from the 2011 rate of .42 percent. Kirchner said part of the medical center's strategy is fairly simple: There's a bottle of hand sanitizer at the entrance to every patient and examination room. Staff members hit that bottle on their way in to see patients and on their way out. Another part of the hospitals success at fighting infection is the fact that most patients are relatively healthy when they check in.

Other accomplishments include:

• The addition of new technology. The medical center is also nearing the end of a years-long project to make all medical records electronic. That will be a critical part of the center meeting the future requirements of the 2010 federal health care law. Kirchner said it will also enable the medical center to transmit comprehensive patient records virtually anywhere.

• A new outpatient surgery center in Edwards opened in 2012.

• The medical center was named one of the best hospitals in Colorado by "U.S. News and World Report," the only mountain hospital to be so recognized.

• The medical center was recognized for "outstanding patient experience" by Health Grades, an online resource that rates doctors, dentists and hospitals.

• Pink Vail, which bills itself at the "world's largest ski day for cancer," raised more than $200,000 in 2012. All that money went to the Shaw Regional Cancer Center's "survivorship programs."

After the presentation, Crevling fielded most of the questions from the audience, which focused primarily on financial matters.

One of the big questions was about the future of Vail Valley Medical Center as a facility that accepts Medicare - for older people - and Medicaid - a program for low-income patients.

Crevling said that reimbursement from those programs covers barely more than one-fourth of the hospital's costs. That's going to become an even bigger issue in the future. Crevling said about 20 percent of the medical center's patient mix is Medicare patients, a number that's growing every year. That will affect the medical center's finances, he said.

"But our mission is to take Medicare and Medicaid patients," he said.

And, Kirchner said, she wants to know if anyone thinks the medical center isn't meeting its stated goals.

"We want to have the best facility possible," she said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.


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The VailDaily Updated Jan 16, 2013 09:42PM Published Jan 16, 2013 09:40PM Copyright 2013 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.