Proposed Vail expansion irks local doctors |

Proposed Vail expansion irks local doctors

Christine McManus
Vail Valley Medical Center is considering several places for an outpatient emergency center,

including the vacant space next to Office Max in the Summit Place Shopping Center in Silverthorne.|Summit Daily/Reid Williams| |

SUMMIT COUNTY – Local doctors are wary that the brewing competition between St. Anthony’s Hospitals/Centura Health and the Vail Valley Medical Center could affect the quality and cost of health care in the county.

Vail Valley Medical Center (VVMC) last week announced it would establish a new emergency center and offer other medical services in the Silverthorne/Dillon area.

Even though VVMC is not building a full hospital, the announcement surprised St. Anthony Hospitals’ executives, who are planning to replace the Summit Medical Center with a 25-bed hospital at the County Commons just southeast of Frisco.

Until last week, said St. Anthony’s chief executive officer George Zara, VVMC executives talked of cooperation, not competition once the new hospital opens in December 2005.

Competition is healthy in many industries, but not necessarily in health care, said Dennis Flint, the CEO of High Country Health Care who is a voice for doctors in the area.

“I’ve seen it happen before. The quality of health care suffers when you have two companies competing in a market like this,” Flint said.

Longtime Dillon physician Jim Oberheide agreed.

“Another emergency center built by Vail Valley would fragment care and raise the cost of health care,” said Oberheide, who has been working as a family practitioner in Summit County for 29 years.

“Oversupply of anything in health care raises costs, whether its doctors or diagnostics.”

For example, Vail Valley might bring in expensive health-care technology such as MRI or CT scan machines. St. Anthony’s new hospital also will have the expensive equipment.

Every year, there is a limited number of people in the region who would need such services, Zara said. When the full-service hospital opens with the same diagnostic services, the limited amount of patients needing diagnostic scans would possibly pay more at either place to cover costs.

Spreading the limited base of customers would not be good for health care, Zara said.

Costs could escalate to a point where the uninsured and indigent populations would suffer, Flint said.

St. Anthony’s mission and expansion includes taking care of those who cannot afford health care. VVMC expansion plans do not mention the issue.

Another example of the possible effect of competition would be the occurrence of closed head injury.

If a skier in Breckenridge has a serious accident on the slopes and appears to suffer internal head trauma, the question is whether Vail Valley Medical Center emergency doctors would drive him to the closer St. Anthony’s facility in Frisco or to its own Vail emergency room over Vail Pass when every minute counts, Flint said.

Zara said he is more focused on planning and building the new hospital, rather than on competing with Vail Valley Medical Center. It’s too early to know whether St. Anthony’s Hospitals will initiate other competitive measures, he said.

VVMC is attempting to plan for more outpatient revenues to supplement inpatient revenues it will lose when patients use the new hospital instead, Flint said.

“I believe they’re doing this as a defensive measure. They thought we would never build a hospital, and with the alignment we’ll have with our St. Anthony’s Hospital in Denver, we have a lot to offer Summit County,” Zara said.

“We’re taking every step necessary to assure that this hospital for Summit County is successful. If that means competing with Vail Valley Medical Center, we will do it, and do it well. We’re here for the long haul,” Zara said.

Flint hopes Vail Valley executives will, in the interest of good public policy, re-evaluate the numbers and statistics of Summit County health care.

Local doctors in January already commissioned an independent study of local health care needs. The Colorado Department of Health and Human Services participated.

The study confirmed that once the hospital, medical office building and surgery center are built, by the start of 2006, health care needs will be met in the county, Flint said.

Doctors, Zara and Flint lament the apparent loss of the initial spirit of cooperation between St. Anthony Hospitals and VVMC.

Initial discussions indicated the companies could combine services for cancer patients. Vail Valley Medical Center has a comprehensive cancer center.

Without expending resources on redundant services, St. Anthony’s new Summit County hospital could offer its surgical center services in cooperation with Vail Valley doctors and patients, when needed.

Oberheide was just one of many doctors who were insulted by to the announcement made by Vail Valley Medical Center executives that locals were not receiving adequate health care.

High Country patients in Dillon and Silverthorne can get appointments within a day for acute illness. Regular checkups are available within one week for patients who call ahead, Oberheide said.

At a High Country Health Care meeting Wednesday night, board members who practice across Summit County were fuming over VVMC’s plans for expansion. They hope its not too late to continue a cooperative discussion, Flint said.

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