From A to V, these are the top Routt County health stories of 2022
Viruses continued to rear their ugly heads during 2022 – including the triple threat of influenza, RSV and COVID-19 in the fall – yet other local medical milestones also stood out in Routt County.
Topping the medical news list of 2022 is the lifting of most COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and the availability of effective pills to treat COVID-19 such as Paxlovid and Molnupiravir, according to Roberta Smith, Routt County public health director, and Dr. Brian Harrington, Routt County public health medical director.
“This is big as a symbol of how far we have come thanks to vaccines and the development of effective treatments, as well as acquired immunity in people who survived infections,” Harrington said.
“I would not say the pandemic is over, but the majority of people can now go about their regular lives,” Harrington said. “Paxlovid in particular is a game changer in treating people with COVID infections at high risk for serious complications or death.”
Smith said the release of the COVID-19 booster vaccine updated to combat the omicron variant was great news after a January spike in omicron cases racked medical facilities nationwide.
In late April, Steamboat Springs couple Alden and Susan Globe testified at the Colorado Senate in support of legislation for stricter sentences for illegal fentanyl dealers and more funding for criminal investigations and education. The Globes lost their daughter, Maddy, a 2014 Steamboat Springs High School graduate, in 2017 from what they consider a “poisoning” from one supposed Xanax pill tainted with deadly fentanyl.
Drug abuse educators, law enforcement officials, The Health Partnership, Steamboat Springs Teen Council and other organizations continued to educate about the dangers of fentanyl deaths and opioid overdoses throughout 2022.
UCHealth Specialty Care at Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat opened in May. The renovated 7,500-square-foot space for the multi-specialty clinic combines care for patients for endocrinology, neurology, rheumatology, pulmonology, pain management, palliative care, and heart and vascular for children and adults.
On Sept. 1, Yampa Valley Medical Center celebrated its fifth-year anniversary under the umbrella of UCHealth, and local medical professionals praised the partnership for bringing more depth to YVMC. Hospital officials say the partnership resulted in new patient services, advancements in technology, new care locations, and significant renovations and investments in the community.
In mid-September, a 50-year medical clinic closed in downtown Steamboat with the shuttering of Planned Parenthood, and some 500 regional patients had to look elsewhere for care. Officials with Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains said the closure stemmed from a variety of reasons amid a “rapidly changing landscape” for women’s healthcare.
“Right now, we are needed in other communities,” noted Whitney Phillips, PPRM chief operating officer. “We are like other nonprofits; we make sure we are putting our resources where we are needed most right now.”
The 2021-22 Community Health Needs Assessment for the Yampa Valley was released in the fall. The assessment that traditionally is completed every three years is used by medical, community and nonprofit groups in Routt and Moffat counties to identify health priorities, develop community health programming and allocate resources.
Medical professionals say mental health and substance abuse continue to dominate local health care concerns. Increased anxiety, stress and mental health issues heightened during the pandemic left a big footprint on the Yampa Valley and led to increases in mental health counseling visits.
Assessment survey respondents said the three worst health issues in the Yampa Valley are all related to behavioral health, including poor mental health, suicide and suicidality, and drug or substance use, misuse and abuse.
In November, the community mourned the loss of Gina Toothaker, 58, the program director at Mind Springs Health in Steamboat Springs and Walden. The widely admired mental health professional who died from an aggressive cancer had worked in the health care industry for more than 27 years. Friends and colleagues say the loss of the well-respected, warm, compassionate, giving and generous woman left a hole in the community.
After an earlier than normal start to the flu and respiratory syncytial virus season, by early December, UCHealth YVMC reported 10 times more influenza cases than at the same time the previous year. In addition, a fall spike in RSV cases and hospitalizations along with continued COVID-19 cases created a triple threat of serious respiratory illnesses and a push for flu vaccinations and COVID boosters.
In December, two well-respected Routt County physicians retired after serving patients for at least four decades.
Called a cornerstone and backbone of the local medical community, critical care and internal medicine doctor Mark McCaulley retired to pursue medical research projects. Fellow physicians said McCaulley always went “above and beyond” for patients and colleagues.
After working as an emergency medicine physician in Steamboat for 40 years, Dr. David Wilkinson served his last shift on Dec. 21 in the Emergency Department at UCHealth YVMC.
Other notable retirements during the year include emergency medicine physician Dr. Nathan Anderson in June after 22 years of service to YVMC and Dr. Steven Ross in May with the closure of Sleeping Bear Pediatrics in Steamboat.
“I remember the early days when we had six bays with curtains, and I had a rotary dial phone and only two books on my desk,” Wilkinson said. “Now, we’re a leader in emergency care, have an incredible facility and have nationally recognized patient experience scores.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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