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Looking behind COVID: Top local medical news of 2021

Registered nurse Erin Weber explains the high-level features in an upgraded trauma room inside the renovated emergency department at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center during a tour in May.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

The COVID-19 pandemic and its repercussions dominated this year’s local, state and national medical headlines. Still, in the Yampa Valley, other medical developments impacted patients’ lives throughout 2021.

1st in organ donors

In February, locals learned Routt County ranked first in the state for organ, eye and tissue donor designation during 2020, according to the nonprofit Donor Alliance. About 80% of people visiting the Division of Motor Vehicles office in Steamboat Springs checked “yes” to adding their names to the donor registry, ranking higher than the state average of 68.25% and the national average of 58%.

“It’s really admirable and remarkable and such a huge benefit to society,” said John Gutowski, executive director of transplant services at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital. “It’s a great thing to be proud of for a community.”



Urgent Care opens

At the end of April, after three and half years of providing service to the community as a stand-alone emergency department, the physician-owned Steamboat Emergency Center closed. The location was then remodeled to become UCHealth Urgent Care under the same umbrella that operates Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Leaders at the two medical facilities considered the move a win-win for local health care coverage and timed the transition during the slower mud season.



“Access to the right level of care helps lower the cost of health care for everyone,” said Soniya Fidler, president of YVMC. “Not everything requires a visit to the emergency department. Urgent care allows patients to be seen in a similarly quick manner but at reduced costs.”

On May 25, the new UCHealth Urgent Care opened. The facility offers care for illnesses and minor injuries that do not warrant a trip to the emergency department but are too important to wait for a primary care appointment. The hours are now 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends.

Emergency room renovation completed

On May 6, YVMC officials announced the completion of a $10 million redesign, renovation and expansion of the medical center’s emergency department. The work, which began in spring 2020, expanded the department by 3,000 square feet and created 14 private patient rooms around an efficient raceway design. The patient rooms include two safe rooms, two negative pressure rooms and a forensic nurse exam room.

Smoke causes health issues

Starting in late June, residents across the mountain region, especially those with asthma and other lung diseases, were forced to modify their outdoor or exercise routines due to wildfire smoke. Through the summer, residents suffered from increased air pollution from two wildfires burning in south and north Routt County, as well as from smoke blowing in from wildfires across the western U.S.

In July, campers trying to stay outdoors all day during the wildfires visited the urgent care experiencing asthma attacks, acute asthma exacerbation and upper respiratory problems.

Many other locals or visitors saw doctors or consulted with pharmacists due to eye irritation, runny noses, dry scratchy throats and respiratory issues. Air quality monitoring sites like PurpleAir.com became an important resource for the community, and more PurpleAir monitors were added locally.

New clinic announced

In August, YVMC announced plans to create a new 7,500-square-foot hub on the east side of the campus for a multispecialty clinic in order to increase ease for patients and efficiencies for staffing.

The ground-floor space will become a consolidated home for six full-time local doctors and two physician assistants in clinics for endocrinology, neurology, rheumatology, pain management, and heart and vascular care. The first clinic is anticipated to move into the new space in late spring 2022.

“We’re fortunate to be able to offer these specialties, especially in a community of our size,” Fidler said. “When patients are able to receive care close to home, it has a positive impact on their health.”

1 year of collaborating

In early September, leaders at YVMC and Steamboat Orthopaedic & Spine Institute celebrated the one-year anniversary of a successful collaboration for the Steamboat Surgery Center. The ambulatory or outpatient surgery center offers orthopedic, pain management and spine procedures while providing an efficient, reduced-cost option due to lower overhead costs than in an all-encompassing hospital.

The 9,150-square-foot surgery center has two operating rooms and nine pre- or postoperative bays. The center offers another care option for preplanned, elective surgeries that has been needed in the community for a long time, according to YVMC and SOSI executives.

Wil Schlaff, CEO of Steamboat Surgery Center, and Soniya Fidler, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center president, celebrated the Steamboat Surgery Center’s one-year anniversary in September.
Suzie Romig/Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

Robotic-assisted surgery system upgraded

In October, surgeons at YVMC began utilizing the upgraded robotic-assisted surgery system da Vinci Xi. The $1.7 million upgraded surgery robot took the place of the hospital’s previous da Vinci Si in use since 2014.

Robotic-assisted surgery allows more traditional open surgeries to be laparoscopic surgeries, in which instruments and a camera are inserted into the patient though cannula tubes that are only 8 millimeters in diameter.

The advantages to patients for these minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgeries are numerous, including smaller incisions, decreased bleeding, less time spent under general anesthesia during quicker surgeries, faster post-surgery healing times, fewer overnight hospital stays and reduced pain.

Dental care for schools

In mid-December, nonprofit Northwest Colorado Health opened a dental clinic inside the Hayden school building to help fill a gap in children’s dental care in the community. The dental care is open to Medicaid and uninsured patients on a sliding-scale basis and will continue 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. most Thursdays when school is in session. The organization is working toward purchasing a mobile care dental bus, funded by an American Rescue Plan grant.

World-class surgeon dies in crash

Also in December, the community mourned the loss of world-class spine surgeon Dr. Clint Devin, a partner at SOSI, who had a huge lifetime impact on thousands of patients, hundreds of medical students and spine surgeons across America through his work.


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