Thirty years ago: the hospital asked Salud for help
Thirty years ago, Claude Priest was worried. It was not unusual for the chief financial officer of Knutson Memorial Hospital, the predecessor of Estes Park Health, to be concerned. But it was a problem that not only consumed his time at work but also kept him awake at night. On the surface it was a strange problem. The hospital was attracting too many patients: the wrong type of patient; Community members without insurance who did not have a primary care provider. Community members sought medical care for preventive, manageable services in the least appropriate, but only available setting. For patients with hypertensive patients or patients with uncontrolled diabetes with related but non-threatening conditions. Without insurance and no primary care provider, they turned to the hospital’s emergency room, their only source of care.
Staffing the ER was expensive and debt collection of payments from uninsured patients was insufficient to cover the cost of staffing the ER. Due to the lack of access to more comprehensive, primary health care, the ER care provided was a band-aid approach. Families moved from one emergency to the next with little or no preventive care to prevent many health problems from turning into a medical crisis. Hospital staff, including Dr. Paul Fonken, took turns volunteering a few hours per week at the free medical clinic. But these efforts were insufficient to address the root cause: lack of access to primary care services regardless of insurance status.
To address this problem, Claude Priest turned to his acquaintance Jerry Brasher, executive director of Salud Family Health (Salud) in Ft. LUPTON, CO.
Salud and other community health care centers were initially established by the federal government in 1965 to provide medical care to disadvantaged communities throughout the country. Salud was established in 1970 as a migrant health center to provide health care services to migrant agricultural workers who sowed and harvested crops in the Pathari River valley. Through the years, Salud expanded to provide care for medically underserved individuals living in communities across the Eastern Plains, and along the front line.
Priest wanted to know if Salud would be willing to open a clinic in Estes Park to provide more appropriate access to primary care, as part of reducing the financial burden on Estes Park Hospital. Salud was interested, but concerned that Estes Park was not medically designated as an under-served area, meaning the clinic was ineligible for federal funds to offset the administrative costs of operating the new clinic. Will happen.
In June 1992, Salud opened a humble one-exam room clinic in the old Range Realty building (currently, The Mountain Vault) just off the Riverwalk, with Eileen Flaherty, a nurse practitioner who lived in Estes Park, and a team of volunteers. was supported by a receptionist, and volunteer assistants who drew the labs. In these pre-HIPPA days, patient files were kept in a four-drawer filing cabinet between the receptionist’s counter and the chairs in the waiting area. Next door, in an equally humble office, Crossroads volunteers write appointments for Salud’s patients.
Initially the clinic operated eight hours a week, gradually increasing its hours to 30 hours per week, during the six years it provided medical care from this initial clinic.
As patient numbers grew, Dr. George Crislip became the first of many physicians to volunteer their time with the startup clinic.
It is doubtful that the arrival of this small clinic provided the initial financial relief sought by the hospital’s CFO. But four years after Salud opened, the hospital volunteered to process all of Salud’s lab work at no charge.
After six years in this one-exam room facility, Salud began a series of expansions to accommodate the growing demands for the service. The second clinic had two examination rooms. Eagle Rock students, under the guidance of their instructor Garth Lewis, designed and built this clinic as part of their legacy project for the community. The clinic, located in the Key Bank part of Lower Stanley Village, ran out of space before the year was out.
The Estes Park Salad Foundation purchased a third facility in the Aspenwood Professional Building. The clinic had five examination rooms but lacked space to accommodate the acute need for dental care.
Salud’s current location on Red Tail Hawk Road was made possible through the efforts of Frank Shawlick, who received a gift of land from Paul and Cathy Kochever, who were developing a housing project just off Dry Gulch Road. Sally Parks led a team of volunteers who raised $1.9M for the 11,000-square-foot facility, which included eight exam rooms and three dental operations. Dan was equipped with dental instruments donated by Rauk. The entry to the center lists the Foundation, service clubs, local organizations and individuals who contributed to making this facility possible.
The center opened in January, 2006.
With this facility the center was finally able to incorporate all aspects of Salud’s integrative approach to health care—medical, dental, behavioral health and pharmaceutical support.
Through these thirty years and four locations, patient care was enhanced by many volunteer physicians including Dr. Scott Woodard (Office Surgical Procedures), John Cooper (Pediatrics), Randy Maharry (Dermatology) and Marty Koshnitzke (OB/GYN).
Fast forward from 2006 to the 2020-2021 COVID outbreak and the long-awaited release of a vaccine to fight COVID. To ensure that the largest number of Americans had access to an initial, limited supply of the vaccine, the first doses were distributed to 1,400 federally funded community health centers (including Salud), providing primary care to 28 million people. There were over 15,000 individual sites.
These 15,000 health clinics include Estes Park Salud, which were linked by common purpose and mission, each focused on a single national emergency; Each clinic is furloughing its limited personnel to distribute, manage and provide free vaccinations to any member of the community while continuing to care for their regular patients.
All over our country, including in Estes Park, people were standing in line, talking to neighbors and strangers. No drama, no controversy, no controversy, no disruption. Only grateful recipients and satisfied employees.
Thirty years ago, two health care administrators collaborated to solve an urgent problem facing Estes Park’s Knutson Memorial Hospital.
Thirty years later, this simple collaboration has grown into a reality far greater than the original partners could have imagined.
Thirty years later, nurtured by the efforts of so many people and organizations, Salud is an integral part of the medical community that provides health care to the Estes Valley.
Thirty years later, EP Salud provides integrated health care including medical, dental, behavioral health and pharmaceutical services that provide access to affordable medication to the underinsured or uninsured.
Thirty years later, EP Salud provides this integrated, primary health care to individuals and families regardless of insurance.
Thirty years later, many Estes Park residents with and without insurance consider Salud to be their health care provider.
Thirty years later, Estes Park Health operates an urgent care center that eases the pressure on its emergency room.
Thirty years later, Salud cares for 63,000 patients through its thirteen centers and mobile vans for farm workers
Thirty years later, Salud continued to provide support to the Estes Park Center without the benefit of federal funds to cover the cost of administrative services.
Thirty years later, Salud, Crossroads and fellow nonprofits receive financial support from the City of Estes Park in recognition of the role each plays in the well-being of the Estes community.
On behalf of the Salud organization, Estes Park Salud staff, its patients, and the Salud Foundation, we thank Estes Park for helping make our community a healthcare facility that supports our community.