Summit County’s caretaker: Deb Crook
Ryan Summerlin February 22, 2013
When Summit County’s Health and Human Services director Deb Crook retired after more than 20 years in the public health sector, the county commissioners were faced with a problem: finding an adequate replacement.
“We couldn’t find anyone who even really came close to filling her position,” Commissioner Dan Gibbs said. “So we couldn’t fill her position.”
Instead, county leaders are restructuring to distribute Crook’s role and passing a resolution honoring her for a career spent caring for Summit County.
“Deb has a history of starting and growing programs that have gone on to flourish as stand-alone nonprofits that continue to serve the community,” the resolution states.
In the last 20 years, Crook has made a career of helping to found and foster agencies dedicated to the health of the local community, including the Community Care Clinic, the Centering Pregnancy prenatal program and the school health clinic.
Still, Crook refuses to take sole credit for the array of organizations and programs that have taken root during her career, characterizing her work, instead, as success through collaboration.
“I can’t say that I did any of those things by myself,” Crook said. “The partnerships between agencies and organizations in the community are critical. We can’t do the work alone and have good outcomes. Really, Summit County’s been known for its partnerships.”
The daughter of a small-town doctor in Massachusetts, Crook grew up around the health care profession. She began working as a nurse’s aid at a young age, and found she liked the work.
“I liked working with people and it seemed like a reasonable line of work at that time,” Crook said. “It fit for me and it worked out amazingly. Just the way it’s supposed to I guess.”
In the early 1970s, Crook spent some time traveling abroad in Switzerland, working in a hotel and skiing. It was there that she met her husband, Turk Montepare. The two would later relocate to Colorado, following their love of skiing and the mountains on the recommendation of a friend.
“I was really a skier, obviously, in those days and Colorado was so beautiful,” Crook said. “I’ve spent most of my life here since then.”
Initially, Crook worked in the ski industry as an instructor and later a patroller, but after having her first child and a short-lived move back to New England, she would return to her first vocation: nursing.
In the 1990s, as she was working her way through a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s in nursing at the University of Colorado, Crook began working part-time with the Summit County Public Health Department.
“My youngest son, Jeffrey, needed immunizations and my doctor told me to go to public health nursing,” she remembers. “That was really my introduction to Summit County public health.”
She started out as a nurse providing home health care and working with others in the department to address the county’s health care needs – at the individual and the community level.
The Community Care Clinic was born not long after, beginning as a small county program providing basic care to the uninsured and underinsured.
“We started in a very small environment, in the evenings with people that just needed some help with colds and simple medical care,” Crook said. “Over a short number of years there were so many people that came to need the access to that care. The biggest challenges have been the growth that has taken place over the years and always the piece of having financial stability.”
Today, the Community Care Clinic is a thriving and independent nonprofit organization that provides services for thousands of people every year.
Crook remained with the county public health department, eventually rising to become the director of public health. Then, in 2010, facing a budget crisis, the county government reorganized and brought four separate departments – public health, social services, the Summit County Community and Senior Center and youth and family services – together under a single umbrella, and leaders asked Crook to head it up.
As the director of health and human services, she was again called on to continue her work in fostering collaboration and partnership across agencies in the county.
“My role was to provide the leadership and vision that four different departments can work together, communicate and work toward goals and outcomes that were kind of similar,” she said. “My job was to work with the four departments to provide the best services we can to our community.”
In December, Crook stepped down from the position, retiring at the age of 63. She said she is now looking forward to having more free time to ski and travel, but will continue to serve on a number of boards in the community.
With new federal regulations related to the Affordable Care Act ahead, she departs at a time of change for the public health field, but says she’s comfortable leaving behind a team that can handle the challenges ahead.
“The people in the organization at the county are strong at this time,” Crook said. “I’m happy about the work I’ve done and I’m looking forward to a little freedom to do other things.”