Breckenridge Medical Center out in the cold
BRECKENRIDGE The future of Breckenridges only emergency room has been cast into doubt by Vail Resorts decision to send injured skiers and snowboarders elsewhere. Designated by the state as a trauma center, Breckenridge Medical Center (BMC) has operated in its current location at the base of Peak 9 since 1992. Through a long-term agreement with the ski resort, ski patrollers brought those injured on the mountain directly to BMC or its satellite clinic on Peak 8 for assessment and treatment.Vail Resorts has opted not to renew this contract, known as the skier transport agreement, with BMC. Instead, the resort has made a deal with Centura Health, the parent company of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco, to provide care for its mountain visitors.BMC, a joint venture of Vail Valley Medical Center (VVMC) and Health One, is managed and staffed by the Vail hospital. VVMC director of public relations and marketing Scott Boie said the hospital has no definite plans for its Breckenridge operation.There are conversations going on about what well do, he said Tuesday. Right now, there are no plans of closing.Employees at BMC say they have been told little about what to expect in the future. Emergency medical technician Carolyne Wodlinger has worked at the clinic for more than five years and, with the ski season over, said shes worried about her job security.Ive heard were closing, she said. Ive heard that Vail (Valley Medical Center) wants to get out of Summit County. Ive heard that Centura is going to take us over.BMC treats as many as 140 injured and ill patients per day during the ski season. The clinic not only serves the resort, but also functions as the towns emergency room during daytime hours. Ambulances bring patients with trauma or medical problems to BMC from a cachement area that extends from Tiger Road to Hoosier Pass.In addition to its trauma services, the facility is also home to a year-round family practice clinic with numerous local clients. Without the skier transport agreement, however, its unlikely to be able to continue in its current capacity.More than 50 employees, including nurses, x-ray technicians, medical technicians and clerical workers, staff the clinic during the ski season. Between 10 and 15 stay on through the summer, when patient numbers decrease. Without assurances from either VVMC or the resort, BMC employees are left only with uncertainty. Registered nurse Karen Drabant, said shes proud of the care shes given during her six years at the facility.I love my job and I love being able to provide health care in this county, she said. Id be sad if that changed.Its unclear how Centura will provide the services it has agreed to for the next ski season. The company has no facility in Breckenridge near the mountain. The possibility exists for Centura to acquire the current medical center and to hire its present employees. St. Anthony Summit Medical Center administrator Paul Chodkowski said no arrangements have been made yet for Centuras move into Breckenridge.At this time, we are not in any active discussions, he said. Chodkowski pointed to Centuras acquisition of the ski clinic at Copper Mountain in 2004 as a potential model for what could occur in Breckenridge.The transition in Copper, he said, allowed for continuation of both physicians and staff employees at the clinic.Wodlinger expressed her frustration with the dearth of information shes received about the clinics future.This is my livelihood, she said. I need to know, and its not just me. Look at everyone who works here. Clinic employees had heard rumors about possible upheavals nearly two years ago, but no official word was forthcoming.It seems like the CEOs are concerned with their wallets and the people who work here are more concerned with the quality of patient care, she added.New hospital impactsAccording to Vail Resorts spokesperson Kelly Ladyga, Centuras increased presence in Summit County, with the opening of the new Summit Medical Center last December, was the deciding factor in the companys decision to change its skier transport arrangement.Our company feels that its been important to the community to bring a hospital to the area, she said. In order to help make the hospital successful, weve awarded them the skier transport agreement for the next ski season. Despite no public announcement, Ladyga acknowledged the resort made its decision about the 2006-2007 skier transport agreement about a year and a half ago. She declined to provide any details about the length or other specifics of the contract with Centura.The presence of the new hospital has already had a major impact on health care delivery in the county.According to statistics from Summit County Ambulance (SCA), during the first four months of the new facilitys operation, SCA transported 820 patients to Summit Medical Center, an increase of 78 percent over last year. Ambulance transports of patients from Summit County to the Vail hospital decreased by 72 percent during the same period.Care of trauma patients is a competitive business in Colorado. Hospitals work hard to attain and protect their status as trauma providers. There are three top trauma centers in the Denver area: St. Anthony Central Hospital, Denver Health and Swedish Medical Center. Once it has been determined that a patients health is too critical to be treated in the mountains, referral to a major medical center is often determined by the corporate relationships of the sending facility. Patients seen at Summit Medical Center, for example, are often transferred to St. Anthony Central, while patients seen at VVMC with similar problems are generally referred to Swedish Medical Center. Referrals of injured skiers from Colorados mountains are potentially important to both these high-level care hospitals.The ability to maintain your trauma level certification is dependent on the volume of seriously injured patients you receive, BMC medical director Dr. Bernie Riberdy said. The bottom line can also be an important consideration in providing trauma services.Questionable Summit County future for Vail hospital Vail Resorts decision to work with Centura in Breckenridge has the potential to affect all of Vail Valley Medical Centers operations in Summit County. In addition to BMC, the hospital runs two Howard Head Sports Medicine physical therapy clinics in the county, as well as the Keystone Medical Center.The Keystone clinic, a facility similar to BMC, sees injured skiers from Arapaho Basin and Keystone. The current contract between Vail Resorts and VVMC for its Keystone operation will not expire for five more years. Ladyga emphasized the non-renewal of the skier transport agreement does not apply to the Keystone clinic.VVMCs Boie declined to speculate on the future of the Keystone facility, but was unequivocal when asked about the physical therapy operations.Howard Head Sports Medicine centers are definitely going to continue, he said.
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