Vail Daily column: A great asset for valley | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: A great asset for valley

Dr. Jack Eck
Valley Voices

After serving in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne Division, I moved to Vail in the fall of 1971. Back then, providing healthcare to our locals and guests was challenging. Interstate 70 was underway, so a trip to Denver meant driving over Loveland Pass and the old Vail Pass. The patients we couldn't serve in our original small clinic would be transported in an old Chevy station wagon ambulance to Denver. Pregnant women would make the trip to Glenwood or Denver through winding roads days ahead of their due dates to make sure they delivered in a hospital. Occasionally, babies were born on the same table that had just been used to set fractured leg bones. Injured or sick visitors would have to cut their vacations short to return home for more comprehensive care.

Over the years, the Vail Clinic evolved into Vail Valley Medical Center and grew with the community, making life in the mountains a little less challenging.

Bringing 24/7 services like an emergency department, Women and Children's Center and in-house laboratory and imaging to the valley made it more feasible for residents to live and grow their families here. We became a real community with hospital, churches, schools, a theater, grocery stores, athletics, concerts and intellectual symposia. It all seemed to work.

Full-time orthopedics, general surgery and obstetrics were established by 1980 when a local donated the funds for an intensive care unit because we needed a place to admit patients in case there were complications during surgery. Sheika Gramshammer hosted a tennis tournament at the Potato Patch Club to raise money for a second defibrillator for the intensive care unit, as the only ancient one we could afford was needed in the emergency room.

When George Gillett owned Vail Associates, he spearheaded the recruitment of Dr. Steadman and later Dr. Hawkins to Vail in 1990. Concurrently, the nascent physical therapy department was funded and enhanced to a sophisticated sports medicine and rehabilitation department by Howard and Marty Head. We began to be noticed as a destination for orthopedics.

One of my interests led me to be in the pool of physicians that traveled with the U.S. Ski Team to training and competitions. From socializing with foreign athletes when overseas, I learned how we were envied by other countries' teams who wished they had the advantage of a similar arrangement with the Steadman organization for their athletes.

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Conferring with my colleagues around the country, I have been reminded that it is highly unusual to see a hospital with this level of sophistication in a small mountain community like ours, which is endorsed and fundamentally supported by the locals.

As the community we have grown alongside begins to age, Vail Valley Medical Center has addressed and minimized the life-changing challenges of aging by providing specialty services like cardiac catheterization, cancer care at the Shaw Center, joint replacement capability, endocrinology, and end of life with hospice arrangements. Vail Valley Medical Center is supportive of the new assisted living facility in Eagle Ranch.

For several years, many of my friends in the real estate business have relayed that young families and retirees who consider moving to the valley take into account the level of healthcare available in the area when making their decision. People are choosing to live in the high country because they can count on Vail Valley Medical Center, no matter where they are in the spectrum of life. Many locals who could afford to go anywhere in the world for healthcare are choosing to stay right here.

Over the 40-plus years I practiced in our community, my patients were more like friends than patients with a number on their chart. You could say the same of many Vail Valley Medical Center docs and nurses. Folks who had to be treated in a larger city related how impersonal and "cold" it felt. We know that patient outcomes are better when cared for in a pleasant environment. When patients walk the halls of Vail Valley Medical Center and see the names of friends and neighbors on the doors — people who donated these rooms — they feel so much better being cared for "at home," surrounded by friends and familiar faces.

At one time, I served on the board of Vail Valley Medical Center, so I know that the medical center has always strived not only to meet the needs of this community, but to anticipate them. We were very early users and endorsers of electronic medical records, for example. In addition, the Eagle Care Clinic was started in 1981 because we recognized the healthcare needs of underserved members of our community were not being met. It has recently transitioned to Mountain Family Health at Vail Valley Medical Center's Edwards Campus, still guided by the very committed and dedicated Dr. Kent Petrie.

Our docs, nurses, and other healthcare professionals care about the people — their patients. They are friends, co-workers, people they run into at the grocery store. They are not numbers. When our caretakers come in from skiing, mountain biking or just enjoying our environment, they are all pumped up, and bring that upbeat feeling into their work environment.

Healthcare is changing, and we have challenges. But Vail Valley Medical Center is embarking on the next chapter of building what this community needs.

Vail Valley Medical Center is one of the greatest assets of this community, both economically and socially. Vail Valley Medical Center and this community have always been focused on how we can do great things in a great way.

This is why I am here and why I have stayed.

Jack Eck, M.D., has been a physician in the valley for over 40 years. He has been very involved with the Vail Ski Patrol, training them for on-mountain trauma and emergencies.