Medical center continues to grow

Hospital offers health services to northern Colorado

Gary E. Salazar

— This November will mark the two-year anniversary Yampa Valley Medical Center changed how health care was delivered in Steamboat Springs and five surrounding counties.

Since the $24.9 million facility opened its doors Nov. 21, 1999, it has quickly become a fixture for residents here and in Routt, Moffat, Grand, Jackson and Rio Blanco counties.

With almost two years of being operational, hospital officials have continued to see more and more patients being treated at the impressive 123,000-square-foot facility.

Last year, the hospital admitted 1,363 patients, an increase of 30 percent from 1999.

A reason for the growth is the hospital has been able to increase its level of care and its ability to treat seriously injured patients.

Consider this. On the evening of Aug. 11, Colton Wheeler, 13, was trampled by a cow at the Routt County Fair. Wheeler suffered a partially deflated lung and a lacerated kidney.

“Three years ago we would have had to fly him out to a hospital on the Front Range,” said Bob Maddox, chairman of the board of directors of the Steamboat Springs Health Care Association, which oversees the hospital’s operations. “We didn’t have to. We were able to treat him here.”

When YVMC replaced Routt Memorial Hospital, which was built in 1950 for $155,000, the association intended for the new hospital to provide a higher level of care and slowly become a regional center.

“The old facility could fit in the basement here,” Maddox said. “To compare the two facilities is like night and day.”

Since it opened, hospital officials have been surprised in some aspects regarding the number of patients the hospital serves, especially in the maternity ward.

“Our maternity ward is always crowded,” Maddox said. “We might be a little underbuilt in that area.”

The reason why births at the medical center have increased since it opened is because of a trend in Steamboat Springs and the medical center is attracting mothers from all parts of Northwest Colorado, said Christine McKelvie, the hospital’s public relations director.

“We have been seeing a baby boom in this area,” McKelvie said.

Last year, the hospital delivered a record 332 babies. This shattered the previous year’s record of 286, which had broken a long-standing record of 274 births recorded in 1982.

Mothers who have chosen to have their babies at YVMC have come from Craig, Walden, Kremmling, Meeker and from as far as southern Wyoming, Maddox said.

Another surprise to hospital officials is the amount of local residents who are taking advantage of the facility.

With a staff of 50 physicians and the facility built to handle general surgeries and procedures, local residents are no longer having to leave the valley.

The level of care in orthopedic and internal medicines, pediatrics and general surgery have all increased, said Karl Gills, the hospital’s chief executive officer.

“For a hospital this size, the medical staff is more diverse than you would expect,” Gills said.

Because of this, residents are no longer traveling to Front Range hospitals to have procedures done, he said.

Maddox agrees.

“People are staying in Steamboat Springs,” he said. “We are taking care of the population here.”

Although the hospital has been firing on all cylinders since it opened, it does face challenges in keeping and attracting personnel and providing specialty services.

“Being able to attract and employ professionals is a constant challenge for us,” Maddox said.

The hospital has 420 employees fill 300 full-time positions.

When it comes to human resources, the hospital if fighting two battles, Gills said.

The first is there is a shortage of health workers, said Gills, who started working for the hospital in January.

“There is a national shortage,” Gills said. “And the health-care industry is a high-turnover field.”

Having a professional staff is important.

“The staff is the heart of the building,” McKelvie said.

The second issue is Steamboat Springs itself.

“The cost of living in Steamboat Springs is higher than most places,” Gills said.

The third challenge is getting state-of-the-art medical equipment.

“The community in Steamboat Springs expects a wide array of services than you would expect for a 10,000 residential community,” Gills said.

For example, the hospital is interested in buying equipment on the cutting edge to detect breast cancer and heart disease.

The equipment is expensive. The breast cancer tool costs $250,000.

“The volume would not justify the expense,” Gills said. “We have to find out how we can get the equipment. We are going to need donations and help from other sources to provide it.”

A good example of the hospital looking to other revenue sources was this weekend’s Ski Town USA Golf Classic.

A portion of the proceeds from the event will go toward YVMC’s cancer-treatment services.

As the hospital continues to move forward, the association is looking toward the future.

“We want to be a regional medical center to treat people from a wider area,” Maddox said. “At this time, we don’t have any plans for expansion.

“If we have to expand, that means we are busy.”

To reach Gary Salazar call 871-4205

or e-mail

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