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New Summit hospital alters medical landscape

Alex Miller
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FRISCO – For years, ambulances have made their way over the pass to the Vail Valley Medical Center from Summit County. While the Summit Medical Center has, in recent years, had its own birthing and trauma centers, it lacked a full-time surgical unit and more advanced equipment, meaning more complex or critical cases had to go to Denver or Vail.That situation has shifted since the new St. Anthony Summit Medical Center opened Dec. 7. While still not as large as Vail Valley Medical Center, Summit’s new hospital is a big step up from its former facility – with plenty of room to expand, as the growing community was figured into the building’s design.Standing in the lobby of the new hospital, it’s not difficult to imagine you’ve made a mistake and wandered into one of the area’s nicer hotels. Slate floors, wooden stairs and paneling, a central fireplace and rock accents surround couches and easy chairs; a big-screen TV hangs on the wall.While Vail Valley Medical Center has been a fixture in Eagle County for decades, Summit’s long-held goal for a similar facility wasn’t realized until just this past December, when the 22-bed hospital opened (it will soon expand to 25 beds). An affiliate of the Centura Health system and St. Anthony’s in Denver, the $40 million medical center is shifting the medical landscape in the High Country – at least somewhat.

For starters, the number of patients transported from Summit to Vail has already decreased, according to Greg Repetti, chief executive at Vail Valley.”The Summit hospital is only a 25-bed hospital, so it won’t be anything like Vail,” he said. “But it’d be naïve to say it won’t have an impact on us.”This season, though, Repetti said it’s been so busy it’s been hard to see the effects of the new facility over the pass. Also a factor is that Summit doesn’t have its “Level III” trauma designation for its emergency room yet, so the more severe cases still come to Vail when they don’t go through – or fly over – the Eisenhower Tunnel.Paul Chodkowski, administrator of Summit Medical Center, said there’s plenty of business to keep both hospitals busy especially as the area’s population continues to grow.

“We see a lot of opportunities to complement and cooperate with Vail,” Chodkowski said, noting that a number of local physicians already run practices on both sides of the pass. “We’ve already been talking with Vail about the potential to share staff between the two hospitals, and also to work with the (Edwards-based) Shaw Cancer Center.”Repetti said his hospital wants to be a cooperative neighbor, and hopes Summit will continue to send some patients Vail’s way.”I can understand if you’re in Summit why you’d want to get things taken care of there,” he said. “But if you need more complex things, the kind that we offer, we’d rather see people stay in the mountains than go to Denver.”Repetti said the Summit hospital’s affiliation with the Centura Health network and its Front Range hospitals makes it more likely for patients to go to Denver who might otherwise come to Vail. He added that the Vail Valley Medical Center clinics in Summit County – including those at the bases of Keystone and Breckenridge – continue to send patients to the Summit hospital.



“We want to have a presence over there and not let people forget that Vail Valley Medical Center has been serving Summit County for a long, long time,” he said. “We offer a lot of services that Summit either doesn’t have now or likely won’t.”Nice digsLocated just south of Frisco on county-owned land, the new Summit hospital is on a hillside overlooking Lake Dillon. Its patient rooms command views of the lake as well as the Ten Mile and Gore mountain ranges. From the wooden grip rails that line the corridors to the sliding painting that conceals medical equipment in the maternity rooms, it appears few touches have been overlooked. Other features include heated walkways and a heated helipad; a decontamination area for the event of a chemical incident or bioterror attack; an interconnected computer system that allows the sharing of patient records and images such as X-rays and CAT scans; and artwork and historic area photos lining the walls.

The attention to detail isn’t just about aesthetics, Chodkowski said, but about creating a comforting, healing environment. It’s also about fitting in.”The intention was to fit into the environment of the resort community,” he said, adding that executives from Vail Resorts and Intrawest who toured the facility were “thrilled” with what they saw.”They said it’s a wonderful fit for resort guests who end up having a hospital stay as part of their vacation experience,” he said. A more comfortable hospital can also make family members more likely to stick around for the rest of their vacation if someone’s in the hospital, he added. Pull-out couches, plenty of televisions and comfortable sitting areas for family are part of that appeal.



More to the point, though, is the fact that Summit County now has a full-time surgical trauma center something it hasn’t had in the past. An expanded birthing center, a full lab, MRI and CT diagnostic machines and the capacity for in-patient surgery add up to the kind of hospital normally found in a larger community. When a county-built medical office building opens next summer, the facility will be more of a comprehensive medical campus, Chodkowski said.Changing needBeyond the improved medical care, larger, more comprehensive medical facilities can influence the communities they serve, Chodkowski said.

“I think the complexion of the county will change with the availability of a medical campus,” Chodkowski said. “It will encourage part-time residents to make Summit County their full-time home, and more people will retire here.”Repetti echoed that.”We’re seeing more people who bought condos here in their 50s spending nine months out of the year here instead of three,” he said. “It changes how we look at the population, so we have look at things like oncology (cancer medicine), cardiology and the other services a population needs as it gets older.”Vail Valley Medical Center, he said, is on the right track with the Shaw Cancer Center, which recently established a partnership with the University of Colorado Cancer Center and is looking to hire a full-time oncologist. Like Summit with its fancy new hospital, Repetti said Vail Valley wants to provide “five-star” service and continue to change with the population.

“It’s not just trauma and babies anymore,” he said. “We have to be more than that.” Alex Miller can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14625, or amiller@vaildaily.com.Vail Daily, Vail, Colorado


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