Grand County lucky to have Denver Health |

Grand County lucky to have Denver Health

Felicia Muftic / My View
Grand County, CO Colorado

Welcome to Grand County, Denver Health (See the Friday, June 4, Sky-Hi News for story). Winter Park Resort is lucky to have Denver Health provide medical services for all at the ski area base.

For 40 years, our family has split its time between Denver and Grand County. We are now full-time residents of Fraser. However, our Denver experience is still fresh in our minds.

Among Denver residents is a saying: “If I am ever in a serious accident, I hope I am taken to Denver Health.” It is indeed one of the top trauma centers in the U.S. Even astronauts have trained there. It has become a model for many other big city charity and publicly funded hospitals.

Some Winter Park connections with Denver Health go back to the 1960s. Our family fell in love with Winter Park after our first real vacation at Beavers Dude Ranch in 1965, which led to our small lodge and home on Meadow Ridge Hill and our children and grandchildren skiing almost before they could walk.

Several physicians who had been on contract with Denver Health (then known as Denver General) formed some of the corps of doctors who provided emergency services in the 1960s before there was a ski patrol or a Seven Mile Clinic at the base. One was my husband, Dr. Mike. Dr. Mike’s compensation was a lift ticket pass, though the joke was that he spent so much time in the first aid room, he never got to go skiing.

In the early 1980s , former ski patrolman Dr. Andy Arnold moved from Denver to Winter Park and set up his medical practice, Seven Mile Clinic. It became the ski area ER and medical clinic. He sold it to St. Anthony’s hospital in 2003, retiring in Tabernash, leaving behind “the best staff possible.” There, too, is another Denver Health connection. Dr. Mike and Andy met when they were among the first docs in the mostly African American poverty struck area of Denver, Five Points, at a Denver Health community clinic..

In addition to being a trauma center, Denver Health is also a charity hospital serving the urban poor. Denver Health has a rich history as a medical safety net.

In the mid-1960s “War on Poverty,” money funded the East Side Neighborhood Health Center to provide primary care for resident of Five Points. Denver Health took the model to other neighborhoods serving Hispanics near Mile Hi Stadium and the Westwood Neighborhood. For many years Dr. Mike was a contract doc working part time in those clinics while developing his private practice.

The nationally acclaimed longtime CEO of Denver Health, Patricia Gabow, brought Denver Health to its current shape. By the early 1980s, the financial drain on the City’s budget was enormous. Thanks to the skills of Dr. Gabow, charity care received some federal assistance and more efficient billing tapped paying patients. In 1997, the hospital changed it name from Denver General to Denver Health. It is an independent agency and is no longer part of the city’s general fund budget.

Denver Health established a foundation, receives private money and support, formed a volunteer auxiliary, and adopted all of the modern day fiscal management techniques often found in privately owned hospitals.

I am sure Denver Health is cheering the Health Reform legislation, which will also provide insurance to the previously uninsured because it will reduce the demand for uncompensated care now running the hospital $300 million-plus per year.  

More community-based clinics and assistance for underserved rural areas were enabled but not funded in the original 2010 Health Reform legislation. Appropriations for community health still need congressional approval. These additional costs to health care reform are already coming under fire.

Whether a community health center will ever come to needy parts of rural Grand County is unknown, but passage of that legislation may at least help make accessible services possible.

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