Pediatrician leaves Summit; one remains |

Pediatrician leaves Summit; one remains

summit daily news
Summit County, CO Colorado
Summit Daily/Eric Drummond

SUMMIT COUNTY ” Moms who describe Dr. Laurie Schwanitz as the kind of pediatrician who goes out of her way to help her patients are dreading her departure.

She is one of the two pediatricians in Summit County, and this is her last month with High Country Health Care.

“I think this is just a great community for kids, and health care is such an important thing,” Schwanitz said. “I’ve been very happy to be a part of it.”

At the end of this month, she will be moving on after serving a need here for four years. Many families are devastated, questioning how family friendly the county is as they face this loss along with extensive childcare waiting lists.

Dr. Chris Ebert-Santos, of Ebert Children’s Clinic who worked with Schwanitz, said, “She worked very hard to improve the level of pediatric care in the community. … It will leave a big dent in the medical care in the community.”

In addition to office visits, between the two they cover five counties ” Summit, Park, Lake, Grand, Clear Creek” while being on call for St. Anthony Summit Medical Center. They were each on call 50 percent of the time, which is the main reason for needing more than one pediatrician, explained Ebert-Santos, adding that some families see both her and Schwanitz.

Cathe Sander and son Ben, 9 months, is one of the hundreds of families who go to Schwanitz.

“There’s a need in the community and it’s only going to grow. … I feel like something has been taken away from us and our county,” she said.

The need is for 2.5 pediatricians and High Country Heath Care is actively recruiting to fill the 1.5, said Dennis Flint, CEO of High Country Health Care. However, recruiting a part-time pediatrician is difficult, he added.

“We know there is an urgency,” Flint said. “We’re sorry to see Laurie go. She was a great asset to the community.”

In the last five years he has been with the company, three pediatricians have come and gone.

“We’ve had a history of, during the time I’ve been here, providing pediatric care to the county,” Flint said, adding that they will continue to do so and it is a commitment they’ve made. “Pediatricians are traditionally not a huge money maker. … It’s not procedure based. Pediatricians will never make as much as family doctors do.”

And for years family physicians have treated children in Summit, but there is a demand from the community for pediatricians, he added.

For a number of the families who see Schwanitz, seeing a family doctor is not an option, they said. Amy Waldes described the reason this way, “I see a pediatrician as being an advocate for your child. … You build this relationship with your pediatrician. You’re entrusting your children’s lives.”

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, pediatricians spend as much as three to six years in pediatric training after medical school. That is the equivalent of up to 24 times more training in the care of children than other physicians who receive an average of three additional months of pediatric training after medical school, the academy reported.

Schwanitz began her career as a pediatrician following her first career as a writer. She spent about 10 years in publishing then went to medical school in Oregon and did her residency at Oregon Health and Science University.

However, originally from Colorado, she wanted to move back. So, when she heard about the job in Summit County, she applied. Now, she is moving on to her next step.

While she didn’t want to comment on her reasons for leaving, she will be commuting to Denver part-time and staying in the community, she said.

“I love my practice. I love seeing the families and helping families grow. … It’s such an honor and it’s humbling when parents choose to bring their kids to me,” she said.

Janesse Brewer is one of those parents. Her son, Finn Brown, 3 months, has known Schwanitz since he first entered the world.

“If the community doesn’t have pediatricians … it starts to feel less family friendly,” she said, adding that when her son was born, within the time she spent at the hospital, she saw both Ebert-Santos and Schwanitz. “She’s exactly who you’d want and somehow we can’t keep that.”

Together, eight moms shared their concerns. Moms who wish the company would try to find a way to help Schwanitz continue working in Summit County. Working moms who say raising a family is tough when you sit on a waiting list for more than a year trying to get into daycare. And some moms who plan on trying to get in with Ebert-Santos. Others who worry about the demand and have plans to go to Denver, at least for now.

Waldes, who is expecting a second child in November and has a history of complications, is one of those who may be going to Denver or possibly Vail.

“I’ve never experienced another doctor who so graciously spent time with her patients,” she said about Schwanitz.

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