Summit County’s orthopedic clinics focus on recovery, access to care

Neurosurgeon Dr. Ernest Braxton is pictured with Practice Manager Lori Fugate on Wednesday, Sept. 2, at Vail-Summit Orthopaedics in the Peak One Medical Center next to St. Anthony Medical Center in Frisco.
Photo by Liz Copan / Studio Copan

Editor’s note: Photo captions in this article have been updated to correct Dr. Ernest Braxton’s title.

FRISCO — Orthopedic care has come a long way in Summit County. 

It wasn’t too long ago that Summit County residents and visitors had to go to Denver to get orthopedic care, a trip that was inconvenient for most and dangerous for some. Now, Summit County has more options available for orthopedic care than ever before, with more clinics moving to the area. 

In addition to The Steadman Clinic — which offers orthopedic services in Frisco, Edwards and Vail — Summit Orthopedics and Vail-Summit Orthopaedics and Neurosurgery both offer procedures and therapy to Summit County residents.

In August, Summit Orthopedics moved into a new 30,200-square-foot medical building, where it’s able to offer a wide range of orthopedic care. 

The new center will feature full orthopedic care for sports and trauma injuries, joint replacement and stem cell therapy. The center also will have physical therapy on-site and a room for small procedures as well as X-ray and MRI capabilities.

“There’s some things we can actually do in our procedure room now that can save the system and the patient significant time and financial (stress),” said Dr. Aaron Black, an orthopedic surgeon with Summit Orthopedics. 

The facility is open for walk-ins and appointments Mondays through Saturdays, Black said. A major goal with the clinic is to provide more access to care. The clinic accepts all forms of insurance including Medicare and Medicaid. 

“Part of what we’re trying to bring to the community is access for everybody,” Black said. 

The issue of access to care isn’t uncommon in mountain communities like Summit. Aside from financial stress, mountain communities previously didn’t have as much specialty care available as they do now, forcing patients to travel to Denver for procedures. 

Dr. Ernest Braxton Jr., a neurosurgeon with Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, said it’s important to have local offices for procedures and follow-up visits. 

“I just saw a patient who was in his 80s who had gotten spine surgery done in Denver but prefers to follow up here in Summit to avoid the traffic,” Braxton said. “He’s not very comfortable driving in Denver. So having those services available to him are a great benefit.” 

Vail-Summit Orthopaedics — which has offices in Vail, Frisco and Edwards — offers surgical and nonsurgical options for the entire musculoskeletal system, including hip and knee joint replacements, stem cell therapy and spine surgery. The clinic also offers urgent care, which is open to walk-ins and appointments until 7 p.m. every day. 

Both Black and Braxton offer unique services to Summit County. Black is the only doctor in Summit to provide shoulder replacements, while Braxton performs spine surgeries without using anesthesia to put the patient to sleep.  

“It eliminates the risk of general anesthetic all together,” Braxton said. “It allows me to communicate with a patient during operation (and) to be able examine them during surgery. That makes it a lot safer.”

Both Braxton and Black have focused on keeping their patients healthy for the long-term. 

“It’s about longevity in these mountain towns,” Black said. “My experience is that people up here are much more active much later in life. They don’t fit into the classic age cutoffs for fixing certain things or the way that we fix certain things. … My goal is to keep everybody back doing the things that they want to do.”

Ski culture has made its way into nearly every aspect of the Summit County community, including medicine. Braxton said he uses the green, blue and black diamond system to indicate whether a patient is ready to move forward in their recovery. 

“My main emphasis is getting people to return to function and return to performance,” he said. “My last job, I was in the military. It was really about returning people to duty. We’ve just now made a slight pivot. Instead of calling it returning people to duty, it’s returning people to performance.”

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