This article first appeared in the Summit Daily on September 17, 2020.
KEYSTONE — Finding quality health care in the mountains used to be a challenge. With few specialty services available, patients had to travel to Denver to get the care they needed.
In the past few years, however, that trend has started to change. Health care systems like Centura Health and Vail Health have greatly expanded their services in Summit County and other mountain communities.
In recent years, Centura, the company that owns St. Anthony Summit Medical Center and the High Country Healthcare clinics, has expanded its team of primary care physicians and brought more specialty care into the county.
One of the hospital’s most recent additions is Dr. David Biggs, an oncologist and hematologist who now works at the hospital’s infusion center. Prior to Biggs arrival, the hospital did not have an oncologist who lived within Summit County.
“We had heard from our community that you’re either driving west to Vail or driving down the hill,” hospital CEO Lee Boyles said. “We just knew we needed to have better access and better coverage. Now patients have access to an actual medical oncologist here in Summit every single week.”
Over the summer, Biggs, who was in Delaware before moving to Summit County, worked to build up the hospital’s cancer care team, including a patient navigator, social worker and a dietitian.
For cancer patients especially, having a doctor in Summit County is an excellent alternative to making the trip to Denver for their care, Biggs said.
“It’s a very reassuring thing for patients to have someone who is a member of the community, lives in the community, is available to help and become part of the community,” he said.
In addition to Biggs, Centura has a number of projects in the works that will help expand access to care in Summit County. The health system is currently building a new clinic in Breckenridge that will offer more services in the area.
Hospital CEO Lee Boyles said Centura is still evaluating which services will be provided at the new clinic. However, it will be focused on providing affordable primary care. The new clinic is expected to be complete by fall 2021.
The health system also will be working on a new affordable housing project for its employees and other local businesses. Boyles said Centura plans to turn the Vista Professional Building site in Frisco into 50 or 60 units of housing. Centura plans to demolish the current building and break ground on the housing project in the spring.
Vail Health, Summit County’s other prominent health care provider, also has worked to expand access. The health system is partnering with Colorado Mountain Medical to build a new medical center in Dillon, which will offer primary, urgent and specialty care.
“It’s a really significant advancement in health care offerings in Summit County, with especially convenient access for those living in the east part of the county,” said Nico Brown, Vail Health’s senior vice president for business development and Howard Head Sports Medicine.
Brown said Vail Health also has paid special attention to behavioral health care in recent years. The health system created Eagle Valley Behavioral Health in 2019, an organization that helps the Eagle County community collaborate to improve behavioral health care in the region.
Vail Health is looking to have a similar partnership with Summit County’s leaders in behavioral health like Building Hope Summit County, Brown said.
“We know our rates of depression and suicide in the mountains are much higher than the rest of America,” he said. “And quite honestly, this pandemic has really made things much, much worse. … We’re looking for meaningful ways to expand and partner with groups like Building Hope in Summit County to grow access to behavioral health services in the Summit County community, as well.”