St. Anthony Summit Medical celebrates decade in Summit County
St. Anthony Summit Medical Center in Frisco celebrates its 10th anniversary Thursday, Dec. 10, and, if there’s anyone who can truly understand the emergency-care facility’s value, it’s longtime Summit County resident Bill Wallace.
He and his wife were expecting their first child in 1983 and driving back and forth to the hospital in Vail for check-ups because the old Summit Medical Center on School Street — a one-story building with the look of a bank, as he described it — did not normally accommodate pregnancies.
When his wife’s water broke five weeks early, they hurried back to Vail where his first daughter was born. But because she was delivered prematurely, the Wallaces had to head to Denver within days for essential prenatal care.
Back to Vail just two short years later in 1985, a similar situation occurred with the birth of their second daughter. This time, his wife went into labor more or less on schedule — when the doctor realized the baby was inverted and effaced. The complication can lead to serious difficulties, possibly even death.
“Basically, she was upside down, and her head was back instead of tucked,” said Wallace. “The only time they’d seen that was in a textbook. The medical center here (in Frisco), they were extremely limited in what they could handle.”
In Vail, the physicians performed an emergency caesarean section to save his second daughter’s life.
“I’m no doctor,” he said, “but I can’t say for certain she’d have survived if we had to do it right there at Summit. She’d probably have died.”
So when the opportunity came in 2004 for Wallace, at that time one of the county’s three commissioners, to play a role in acquiring the necessary land and approving the construction of St. Anthony in partnership with Centura Health, the decision was obvious. The 24/7 hospital has been a staple of the local community and those visiting the county ever since.
The 100,000-square-foot hospital has come quite a ways since opening its doors Dec. 7, 2005. It’s gone from treating 31 emergency patients during its first day of operations, which was about the average for the original Summit Medical Center, to today seeing upwards of 130 per day during busy portions of peak season, which runs approximately Christmas through Easter.
“Within the first year, we started to think about expansion,” said St. Anthony president and CEO Paul Chodkowski. “Within two weeks, we were at 100-percent occupancy, so the need was there.”
It wasn’t too long before St. Anthony’s 25 beds became 35; it’s two operating rooms, four; it’s six birthing rooms, eight. In just nine months after opening, the hospital received approval from the state’s department of health as a Level III Trauma Center. It wasn’t only significant ski injuries that were coming through its ER, but any major incidents happening in the mountains.
Today, that creative land exchange the county made with the U.S. Forest Service to provide the 17 acres on which St. Anthony presently resides — bolstered by the initial $52 million investment from Centura into the structure — has been fortified with another $15 million. That doesn’t include the many pledges received to assist with allowing extra growth and acquiring the latest state-of-the-art equipment.
Centura has added a sleep study lab for the diagnosis of various sleep disorders, as well as echocardiography (heart) services and nuclear medicine (organ and tissue) imaging studies. Earlier this month, the hospital also announced the addition of both a Medtronic O-arm Intra-operative 3-D Imaging System and a StealthStation Surgical Navigation System for increased safety and precision with spinal surgeries.
There’s also a planned expansion into oncology services in the medical office building on the facility’s third floor, offering the community the latest in outpatient cancer treatment.
“These are not normally services found in a community with a population of 35,000,” said Chodkowski, who has been in his position all 10 years of the medical center’s existence. “And it’s because of the many donations provided, and all of the support that’s helped sustain us.
“The thing I’m most proud of is the commitment of our staff to the values of compassion, dignity and respect,” he added, of the hospital’s now more than 350 employees, up from its original 180. “They basically live the values of our organization, providing the highest level of service. They’re the people who make it work.”
Despite St. Anthony being honored for the second straight year (and third time in five years) with an award as a top rural hospital from The Leapfrog Group, a nonprofit that annually tracks the safety and performance of hospitals across the nation, challenges remain for both St. Anthony and Centura. And residents in Summit County feel a substantial pinch on their wallets with extensive premiums, sometimes having to choose between paying for health care or their rent.
Chodkowski acknowledged that the country’s approach to health care is in tremendous flux. Appearing at a Frisco Town Council meeting earlier this week, he was involved in what he called a “pointed discussion,” facing tough questions from vexed councilmembers, many of whom are also small-business owners.
“The frustration was directed at the entire health-delivery model,” he said. “We took the brunt of it from those who can’t afford health insurance, and they pointed the finger at the hospital. We’re a part of the total cost of health care, but a small component. The physician and drug components are all involved.”
“Small-business employers are having the most difficult time with the current insurance structure,” he continued. “We’re taking a much more comprehensive look at health care. We’re working aggressively to provide a coordinated continuum of services for our patients—pre-hospital, hospital, post-hospital care.”
The changing national landscape of health-care delivery isn’t the only obstacle that Summit Medical has faced in the 10th year of its existence.
It was only this July when a Flight For Life helicopter tragically crashed in the St. Anthony parking lot. The aircraft took off from the hospital’s helipad and ascended 100 feet before plummeting back down on its right side to claim one life, pilot Patrick Mahany, and keep another, flight nurse Dave Repsher, in critical condition. Fellow flight nurse Matt Bowe was also injured in the accident but returned to work in November.
The National Transportation Safety Board released an initial report on one of the more grisly events in the hospital’s history, but the investigation into the cause of the fiery crash is ongoing.
The incident remains shocking, but the community can find solace in knowing the hospital has saved many more lives than the loss and severe injuries on its property just five months ago. And so, St. Anthony and its staff invite residents to join them in celebrating the momentous anniversary.
“We’re excited to share the 10th year of the hospital’s operation on Thursday night with the people we’re privileged to serve,” said Chodkowski.
The gathering is Thursday at St. Anthony, starting at 6:30 p.m. Former county commissioner Bill Wallace will be on hand to briefly speak about the genesis and importance of the medical center, perhaps even a few words about its birthing center.
“It’s far exceeded what we envisioned with the surgery center, and medical office building next door,” he said. “They service the whole mountain region, and it’s a benefit to the whole area. It was needed, and is part of the community.”
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