Vail Daily column: Independence differentiates us | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Independence differentiates us

Michael Shannon
Valley Voices

Independence — it's a word that carries great freedoms, as well as great responsibilities. For Vail Valley Medical Center, it means we are completely self-funded and independently governed. The hospital's independence has differentiated us since our founding in 1965, and it has guided our board of directors through the decisions we've made along the way. Being independent has allowed us the freedom to dedicate ourselves as a community hospital, to keep our dollars local and to make VVMC the most modern mountain healthcare system in the world.

Being independent also means we are responsible for generating the income to sustain our day-to-day operations. Unlike other nonprofit hospitals, VVMC does not receive tax dollars from local residents, through mill levies or from the towns in Eagle County. Although we are here to serve the community, VVMC is not owned by the community. We rely on our revenues and philanthropy to reinvest in ways that directly benefit our community — including services you might not otherwise see in a rural hospital; healthcare jobs; new physicians; state-of-the-art equipment; improved access; community outreach and charity care.

Increasingly, community hospitals are becoming part of larger healthcare systems, requiring them to send revenues to a corporate office in another city or state, or pay out shareholders, making them dependent on the larger hospital system. Larger systems dictate the level of care and types of services that are offered at the community hospital level. If this was the model in Eagle County, our Level II nursery, cancer center, cardiac cath lab and Level III trauma services would be at risk of closing and patients would be sent elsewhere for critical care. Thanks to VVMC's independence and the board's dedication to supporting the local community, our dollars are reinvested right here in Eagle County to provide high-quality healthcare services that are immediately available and important to many of us.

Independent community hospitals across the country are facing the greatest challenges in their history, and more than 500 have been acquired or merged in recent years. There are more uncertainties than ever in our nation's complex healthcare environment. However, thanks to the guidance and dedicated expertise of our unpaid board, the vision of our leadership team and the unwavering support of our staff, donors and patients, VVMC is thriving with locations in six towns across Eagle County. We are proud and confident in the business decisions we've made, including saving substantial reserves over the last decade to now build one of the largest building projects in the community's history without incurring any taxpayer expense.

Strong leadership and patient focus are the foundation of an independent hospital. Our board and executive leadership team are comprised of visionaries who care about the state of healthcare in this community. The majority of our executives are former and current caregivers. Our President and CEO Doris Kirchner began her career as a nurse and cares deeply about ensuring the best possible outcomes for our patients. Under her leadership, VVMC's care philosophy places the patient and family at the center of our organizational focus, and our mission — to provide superior health services with compassion and exceptional outcomes — guides every one of our employees in everything we do. That mission-focus is one reason VVMC patient satisfaction scores are some of the highest in the state. By providing a vast array of healthcare services right here in our community, VVMC ensures people of all ages are able to actively live their passions, right here, every day possible. Localized health care also saves our local community time off of work, travel costs and undue stress.

Relationship-building is another way Vail Valley Medical Center has been able to remain independent. We would not have the facilities, diversity of services or state-of-the-art equipment without the invaluable partnerships we have made with individuals and organizations in our community. Our partnerships with the experts at The Steadman Clinic, Steadman Philippon Research Institute and Vail-Summit Orthopaedics have made Vail a center of orthopaedic excellence and a world leader in evidence-based research. Further, these invaluable partnerships have allowed us to fund services and initiatives we might not otherwise be able to afford. In addition, individual benefactors, groups like the Volunteer Corps and local corporate partners continue to pave the way for excellent healthcare in our valley.

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VVMC's ongoing support of independent community partners makes up a portion of our $11 million in charitable community benefit every year, extending far beyond our hospital walls — through Starting Hearts, we are placing 50 additional defibrillators in the community; through Colorado Mountain College, we are educating and placing students in profitable and worthwhile healthcare fields; through Mountain Family Health, we are serving the uninsured and underinsured; through Mind Springs Health, we are addressing mental health issues in our communities; through Castle Peak Senior Care Community, we are taking care of our aging population. In addition, with the support of the Eagle County School District and local independent schools, we are bringing helmet and seatbelt safety to children of all ages, sun safety to elementary-aged students, athletic support to high schoolers and summer lunches to children in need.

A hospital is the cornerstone of a healthy community, and Vail Valley Medical Center's continued independence benefits the health of Eagle County and our visitors.

Michael Shannon is chairman of the Vail Valley Medical Center board of directors.