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Health care could inject life into local economy

SUMMIT COUNTY – At his general practice in Frisco, Dr. Jim Bachman specializes in altitude sickness, using the internet to attract potential clients looking for help with ailments caused by low oxygen levels at high altitude. It’s a small and specialized field Bachman considers a side business to his regular practice, but it is an example of how Summit County’s unique environment presents a future economic possibility in the health care industry. The new hospital under construction behind the County Commons near Frisco presents varied possibilities for the area’s economy that go well beyond the doctors, nurses and additional personnel that will be required to staff the 25-bed facility, Bachman said. Orthopedic surgeons already enjoy a reputation that brings people from around the country to the area to repair broken bones and mend joint ailments, but Bachman said the new hospital – expected to open in December 2005 with an adjoining medical office building – is likely to draw doctors in specialized fields of medicine.”We had a problem attracting specialists before because there was no place for them to work,” Bachman said. Diversifying the economyAs towns deal with reduced sales tax revenues and impending population booms, officials formed economic committees to direct energy into new industries. The aim is to build a year-round economy that doesn’t depend on the weather and outsiders arriving to spend money. While skiing and tourism is expected to continue as the mainstay, more jobs will be needed as the population continues to grow. Up to 45,000 people will live here by 2025, the county planning department forecasts.In Frisco, for example, an 11-member economic committee is to be seated in January to explore economic diversity, said Mark Gage, the town’s development director. “We want to look at getting more jobs that are higher paying and more stable than the typical service job,” Gage said. New health opportunitiesSummit County’s elevation also could benefit Shannon Galpin, owner of Oasis 9600 in Breckenridge, a movement and wellness center that opened on Airport Road this month.Galpin placed an advertisement in the national magazine Pilates Style hoping to attract clients from around the country to Breckenridge for the alternative health services she and 20 other contracted professionals offer. Part of the business serves athletes who can increase sports performance through specialized treatments, adventure clinics and seminars. Training at altitude is known to enhance performance at lower elevations, and Galpin hopes to attract athletes to her facility because of that.Breckenridge sits at 9,600 feet.”There are not very many other places in the country that have a facility at this altitude,” she said.High altitude is a small environmental factor that sets Summit County apart, but Maureen Keefe, who manages Winds of Change Healing Center in Frisco, noted that social attitudes also make this place different.”We are an active, healthy population, and at this elevation and high activity level, it demands that you’re healthy,” Keefe said.The area always had large numbers of alternative health professionals, from massage therapists to rolfers, but now both Galpin and Keefe created co-op businesses for those who previously worked independently.Tom Castrigno, a candidate for the Board of County Commissioners who lost in the Nov. 2 election to incumbent Bill Wallace, campaigned on a platform of economic diversity, frequently discussing alternative health care as a possibility. “I see people coming here for a two-week period for nontraditional treatments,” Castrigno said, “for things aimed at healing and recovering. It’s not going to a spa for a massage every day – Arizona is pretty much Mecca for that type of thing.”As a candidate, he said he supported cooperation and communication to help health care become a destination industry in Summit County.Senior careCandace Selk Barnes runs Timberline Adult Day Service, the area’s only adult day care service that represents an important link in the continuum of care in any community, especially one with an aging population, she said.Summit’s senior population is expected to grow in the next 10 years as some second homeowners use their mountain properties more or retire and move to the High Country.Selk Barnes serves up to 10 adults a day, three days a week at the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco. “Having an adult day care program is a stepping stone to taking a look at having an assisted living program and having a nursing home,” she said. The closest assisted living facility for aging seniors is in Evergreen. Salida has the closest nursing home.”With the population aging and people living a lot longer, I think there will be a need for new facilities here,” Selk Barnes said. “There’s a misconception in Summit County that everyone is healthy and fit and there’s a population that’s fallen through the cracks and we need to step up and meet the needs of these individuals.”Timberline opened in January 2003. It is a nonprofit that operates through rent subsidies – the county does not charge for the space – at the county building.Selk Barnes, a nurse and former nursing home administrator, said the biggest challenge in adding new services is finding land for facilities.”We’d love to see assisted living come into the county but we’re already struggling with housing,” she said. Real estate challengesWhile the new 16-acre medical campus near Frisco may solve space problems for the area’s traditional doctors, finding real estate for Oasis 9600 was a challenge for Galpin when she started searching for a site.The space on Airport Road is 3,000 square feet. Galpin originally looked downtown on Main and Ridge streets but found a space that size would cost more than $1 million.She eventually picked the former glass warehouse for its parking, light and flexibility to design separate rooms for the many different services and attractive reception area.Galpin purchased the space and spent between $100,000 and $150,000 to remodel it.”I didn’t want the business to be tied in with a landlord,” she said. “If you’re renting, there’s no safety net.”Summit County Government secured the land for the new hospital through a trade with the U.S. Forest Service, then leased it for $1 a year to Centura Health/St. Anthony’s Hospitals for 99 years. Selk Barnes said a similar situation would probably need to be worked out to see an assisted living facility or nursing home in Summit County.The story behind the storyAt an economic summit this month organized by the Summit County Chamber of Commerce and hosted by Copper Mountain Resort, an attendee asked a simple but key question about diversifying and stabilizing the economy: “What should we do?”Economic consultant Ford Frick, a panelist at the event, had discussed future challenges in resort communities caused by new residents coming here not just for the skiing but for the quality of life.To integrate new residents into the economy, Frick suggested communities figure out what they want to be besides tourist destinations, then act to attract new business such as small technology firms or alternative health care providers. Health care is just one possibility for the community to consider.The discussion started at the inaugural economic summit held Nov. 3 at Copper Mountain is expected to continue through small focus groups in the coming months. Another event is planned next spring. For information, contact chamber executive director Constance Jones at (970) 668-2051.Kim Marquis can be contacted at (970) 668-3998, ext. 249, or at kmarquis@summitdaily.com.


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