Visiting patients have expanding options | VailDaily.com

Visiting patients have expanding options

Amy Potter, a physical therapist at Howard Head Sports Medicine’s location at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa, works with a patient on a Pilates machine. A growing number of people come to the Vail Valley for surgery, then start their recovery at local hotels.

BACHELOR GULCH — On a snowy January weekday, a group of people gathered at The Ritz-Carlton hotel, not to indulge in powder, but to tour the hotel and how it can accommodate patients who have come to the Vail Valley for surgery.

The tour group included Dr. Steve Singleton of the Steadman Clinic, his physician's assistant Mike Begg and physician liaison Kelly Dantas. Todd Ward of the Howard Head Sports Medicine group came, too. The host was Kelly Morrison, the hotel's travel industry sales manager.

Morrison said The Ritz-Carlton's partnership with the valley's medical providers is a new one. But partnerships with valley hotels are nothing new.

Vail hotels including The Sebastian, the Sonnenalp and others have long provided patients with their first post-operative homes. The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa in Avon is another.

That group of patients is fueling a relatively new phenomenon some call destination medicine.

According to information from Vail Valley Medical Center, destination patients account for more than $30 million per year in annual economic impact, and account for nearly 100,000 visitor nights. Some stay in the valley's mid-priced hotels and lodges. Others are able to stay at The Ritz-Carlton and similar properties.

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Many of those patients are professional athletes. During one elevator ride, Singleton and Begg were talking about the performance of an unnamed patient, a tennis player competing that week in the Australian Open. Other patients have been referred to the clinic, and those who can afford the trip often come to the valley, many stay for several days.

"As a (physicians') group we have patients from all over," Singleton said. Like other valley visitors, those patients are looking for a good experience, as well as a good medical outcome. Having a comfortable place to stay in the days following surgery is part of that experience, he said.

Rehab in Peace

Some people like the relative bustle of Vail. But, Dantas said, others prefer more quiet with their visit. That's where The Ritz-Carlton comes into play. On this snowy day, even the area around the hotel's chairlift is relatively peaceful. If someone wants to rehab in peace, then this is a good place for it.

Whether they want activity or quiet, patients often bring their spouses and families. That led to some pleasantly raised eyebrows when the tour came to one of The Ritz-Carlton's two-bedroom suites. Some of those suites are handicap-accessible, and many have full kitchens.

There were plenty of other parts of the tour that had the medical team smiling and nodding, from the hot and cool pools in the spa to the heated outdoor pool near the chairlift.

Working with hotels is essential to providing a good start to post surgical care.

Begg said coordinating care with hometown physical therapists can be tricky.

"Communication is definitely our biggest challenge," Begg said. "If (patients) can stay here longer, the more we can help."

Getting patients to care is an important part of those first days following surgery. Vail Valley Medical Center spokeswoman Emily Tamberino, who was along on this day's tour, said hotels including The Ritz-Carlton and The Westin, provide transportation to Howard Head facilities every day of the week.

That practice has facilities from Vail to Eagle, including Beaver Creek. That gives convenient options to both locals and visitors.

Singleton said a number of patients prefer to recuperate outside of Vail. With the clinic having offices at Vail Valley Medical Center's Edwards campus, places such as The Westin and The Ritz-Carlton become destinations for patients.

Besides transportation, to physical therapy, having the right facilities at the hotels is useful for both patients and families. Most of the hotels used by patients have fitness centers, pools and spas, as well as massage-therapy services and other amenities.

But services go beyond the spa and fitness centers. The medical professionals on tour this day were looking for halls, doorways and elevators that are wide enough for a patient on crutches or in a wheelchair.

And recovery can be a tricky thing. Some patients are ready to go home sooner than they expect. Others need to stay a few days longer. That's why The Ritz-Carlton doesn't have minimum-stay requirements for patients.

That's the sort of thing hotels have to do for medical patients, and why new partners want a piece of a growing pie.

By the numbers

$30 million: Estimated annual economic impact of people traveling to the Vail Valley for sugery.

100,000: Estimated annual room nights from those patients.

180: Rooms at the Ritz Carlton Bachelor Gulch.

43: Suites with kitchens.