Summit Community Care Clinic seeks to bridge primary care gap
Finding a doctor in rural Colorado can be challenging. Residents often need to wait a month or more to see a provider, have to travel a long distance or struggle to have their insurance accepted. In places like Crowley County, east of Pueblo, there aren’t any doctors left. The problem stems from low reimbursement rates and in many cases, like in Summit County, the exorbitant cost of living.
Dr. Kathleen Cowie, chief medical officer at Summit Community Care Clinic, said that a lack of primary care providers has been an ongoing problem for the clinic and the community.
“We identified the need for more primary physicians in our area, and our own clinic struggled hiring a primary provider for the past year,” Cowie said. “One of the things we looked at to address the problem was recruiting new graduating residents from programs in the Front Range.”
Colorado’s Commission on Family Medicine has tried to boost the availability of doctors in rural areas by requiring family medicine residents spend at least one month practicing at one of several rural health clinics or hospitals across the state.
Summit Community Care Clinic has just been tapped to be one of the rural residency providers in the state. Starting in August, residents will start seeing patients at the clinic, one of about a dozen across the state.
But the problem remained: Where would they live? The commission requires host communities to have adequate affordable housing for residents and finding a place to stay in Summit for a month is ridiculously expensive, even during shoulder seasons.
The clinic and its board of directors came up with a unique solution: open up their own homes to residents for as long as they practice here.
Board member Dana Cottrell said the move just made sense based on her own living situation and saw it a lot like hosting an exchange student.
“My kids are in college or graduating and not home anymore,” Cottress said. “I thought, ‘we have this extra room, why not put it to good use?’ It’d be a great way to let residents live here, introduce them to Summit County and maybe get them to fall in love with the place so they wind up finishing their residency here and hopefully staying to practice.”
Dr. Norm Stoller, another clinic board member and former chair of the Division of Periodontics at the University of Colorado, said that the experience working and living in Summit County would also help familiarize the residents with the people they treat.
“We got people from all sides of the economic spectrum here,” Stoller said. “We got some interesting medical problems to deal with and a lot of good mentors. Practicing here certainly furthers their education, and their service will help relieve the workload of primary doctors already here. It’s a win-win-win for everybody — the residents, the clinic and the community.”
Lynne Jones is the executive director of the Colorado Association of Family Medicine Residencies that administers the rural residency rotation. She said she applauded Summit for being a part of the rural rotation program and the clinic’s approach to housing residents.
“I give a lot of credit to Summit for bringing on the rural rotation and their housing solution,” Jones said. “It’s great way to expose potential primary care providers to the community, the practice and the types of patients and their concerns there. It shows the commitment of the community to welcome these residents and their desire to keep them practicing there.”
Jones said that 75 to 80 percent of residents who train in Colorado stay here, and the rural residency rotation and loan repayment program has led to over 60 percent of rural residents eventually practicing in rural areas.
With the hope that one, several or most of the residents who rotate at the clinic stay in Summit, Dr. Stoller said that he and other board members are eager to introduce residents to everything Summit has to offer.
“As a community, Summit works incredibly well,” Stoller said. “The community spirit here, the outdoors, the culture, we’ve got it all. Unless you’re truly a big city person, I can’t see how you don’t love this place.”
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