Aspen Valley Primary Care Celebrates First Anniversary

July 31, 2020

The Team-Based Practice is Focused on Keeping Patients Healthy

Aspen Valley Primary Care, which just celebrated its first anniversary in July, is not like the physician practices most of us grew up with. 
In addition to great care from experienced doctors, patients can get help making an appointment with a specialist, learn about beneficial dietary and exercise plans, talk to a social worker about behavioral challenges associated with their healthcare, or simply get assistance arranging transportation to and from their appointment. It is part of the team-based care model that Aspen Valley Primary Care has embraced as the newest clinic in Aspen Valley Hospital’s Center for Medical Care.
The Primary Care team includes four physicians, a nurse care coordinator, a behavioral health specialist, five medical assistants and three clinic coordinators. The doctors include family medicine Drs. Kelly Locke, Karen Locke and Michael Plachta, and internist Dr. Edward Wiese.
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The Lockes had until last year been practicing independently in the valley for nearly three decades, so joining the hospital-owned clinic was a new endeavor. “I think we’ve done a nice job building up the practice in the last year,” says Dr. Karen Locke. “Our goal was to expand our services, and we’ve been able to do that by joining with Aspen Valley Hospital.”
Primary Care is also a new service for Aspen Valley Hospital — and critical to the hospital’s population health initiatives of making care more accessible and affordable while improving outcomes. The team-based model that the hospital and all four doctors have employed has been key to achieving those goals.
“It’s taking the work and distributing it among the team members so we can all be doing exactly what we were trained to do,” says Alyssa Franklin, director of Aspen Valley Primary Care. “It gives the doctors more time with their patients.”
The model encourages medical assistants to take ownership of their duties, such as ordering labs or vaccines based on established protocols. Care Coordinator Kelli Higdon, a registered nurse, works with patients on effectively and affordably navigating the healthcare system. And Behavioral Specialist Michelle Miscione, a licensed social worker, assists patients who may benefit from help overcoming personal challenges that affect their healthcare.
“With a designated person to troubleshoot challenges and make connections for patients, there is less chance that something will slip through the cracks, and it helps patients accomplish what they need to accomplish from their healthcare,” Dr. Karen Locke explains.
“Also, having as much as we can in one location is a big plus,” Dr. Locke continued, in reference to the new Midvalley Lab location just upstairs from Primary Care. “It creates a medical center rather than having services scattered in different locations.”
For Dr. Wiese, who spent years practicing in Ohio, the lure of practicing in the Roaring Fork Valley and at Aspen Valley Primary Care was strong. The overall health of the valley’s population and our focus on wellness made this an exciting place to practice medicine. And the team-based and data-focused care model at Aspen Valley Primary Care made it the right call as an employer.
Dr. Wiese helps lead the Quality Care Team, comprised of five staff members who evaluate how Aspen Valley Primary Care is doing and how the practice can improve. Some of the factors they study include work flow at the clinic, adherence to protocols and patient behavior.
“We can look at our patients and their outcomes using the tools we have now with data management and electronic medical records, and work to ensure they are getting the preventive care they need when they need it, such as a mammogram, colonoscopy, flu shot or a physical exam,” Dr. Wiese explains.
“The population health management model at Aspen Valley Primary Care is a fundamental transition in the healthcare model that switches our focus from illness to wellness,” he continues. “The goal is to help patients stay healthy, which improves overall population health and ultimately reduces costs throughout the entire system.”
While the differences between Aspen Valley Primary Care and more traditional practices are clear, the doctors and staff  have been busy doing the work that’s always been done — taking care of their current patients’ needs and accepting new patients. About three to four appointments each day are new patients looking for a primary care physician.
The Aspen Valley Primary Care team was also critical in the hospital’s early response to the COVID-19 crisis. They set up and ran the Respiratory Evaluation Tent in the AVH parking lot, and helped move it inside the hospital (now the Respiratory Evaluation Center) as summer temperatures set in.
Dr. Karen Locke says Aspen Valley Primary Care has been actively working to protect staff and patients at their clinics in Aspen and Basalt. “I want to let folks know that we are using all sorts of precautions to make it safe for our patients,” she says.
Aspen Valley Primary Care serves patients in two locations — at Aspen Valley Hospital in Aspen and in Basalt at 1460 East Valley Road.

Click to read more about Aspen Valley Primary Care, including services, hours of operation and how to request an appointment.
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Face Masks Matter | A Message from Dr. Catherine Bernard

July 30, 2020
To Our Community,

As President of the Aspen Valley Hospital Medical Staff, and a member of the Medical Advisory Team to Pitkin County Public Health, I would personally like to thank everyone in Pitkin County for wearing masks, keeping our distances, and keeping Aspen open. So far, AVH and Pitkin County have not experienced the anticipated spike in hospitalizations as our activity levels in the community have increased substantially. I believe that is in large part due to our continued efforts to decrease viral transmission, including mask wearing.   
Face masks really do matter. The scientific evidence is growing.
As physicians, we have observed the mounting evidence in support of face coverings, especially in crowded places and confined spaces, and when in close contact with others. We therefore support Aspen's mask mandate and zone, and the current Pitkin County Health Orders. We encourage everyone to wear a face covering when in contact with others not of your household, just as we keep our faces covered Quick read more or view full article here in the hospital when in contact with other members of our healthcare team.
Wear a mask, wash your hands, watch your distance, and stay home and get tested when you and your physician think you may have COVID symptoms.
These are the best practices physicians and healthcare professionals across the country agree are key to reducing the transmission of the virus and avoiding overwhelming our hospitals. I am proud to be a part of the Medical Staff of physicians at Aspen Valley Hospital who uniformly support and abide by these basic commitments to containment. I am also proud to be a part of the healthcare team who will be there for you when you need us, for any reason. You have my assurance you will receive COVID-safe and extraordinary healthcare at the hospital and at all of our locations.

Dr. Catherine Bernard
Chief of Staff, Aspen Valley Hospital

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“Comfortable” But Not Complacent | A Message from CEO Dave Ressler

July 30, 2020
Observers of the AVH Capacity Matrix will have noticed we have moved our Daily Visits indicator back to “Comfortable” from “Cautious.” However encouraging, this status remains highly tenuous as we have averaged just less than the 16-visit threshold in our COVID testing center for the past 14 days. Also, we are seeing small but notable increases in visits to the Emergency Department by patients with COVID symptoms. Meanwhile, admitted patients and the number of essential workers out ill remain “comfortable,” which we are very pleased to see as we enter our fourth week following the 4th of July holiday weekend.

What does this mean?

We believe that we have so far avoided the spike in acutely ill patients that we anticipated, at least for now. How have we accomplished this? Without question, our community is reaping the benefits of our overall strong compliance with our Five Commitments to keep our distances, cover our faces, wash Quick read more or view full article our hands, stay home when we don’t feel well, and get tested when we have COVID symptoms.

Can it really be that simple? We and the science that support these measures would absolutely attribute our manageable hospitalization rates to these efforts as well as the Pitkin County Health Department’s hard work and contact tracing (boxing in the virus). Special credit also goes to our business community for doing its part to adapt and contribute to the compliance. Bravo Aspen and Pitkin County!

However, this doesn’t mean that we can let down our guard or become complacent. Quite to the contrary, why would we change our tactics when they are achieving the desired results of not stressing our healthcare system? Instead, we need to double-down on our efforts, keep our collective foot on the containment gas, and continue to maintain a culture of caring for one another. We can see a clear path through the continued pandemic until treatments and vaccines ultimately lift the clouds and we can then begin to breathe our fresh mountain air without filtration.

Here at AVH, our dedicated staff and physicians continue to be there for those afflicted, including in our Respiratory Evaluation Center, in our Emergency Department, and when our patients require hospitalization or transfer. We continue to provide essential testing for our community, in cooperation with Pitkin County Public Health and with the support of the 2020 Rescue Fund. Now, as a part of a three-county regional testing strategy, all four hospitals, from Rifle to Vail, and Glenwood Springs to Aspen, are working with each other and our public health departments to provide testing in a consistent and effective manner, while we all contend with the same testing capacity limitations that are being experienced across the country.

And of course, you can continue to expect the same extraordinary care that you have come to expect from all of our AVH services in a COVID-Clean environment.

Dave Ressler
CEO, Aspen Valley Hospital

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A "Cautious" Message from AVH CEO and Chief of Staff

July 2, 2020
To Our Community,

As healthcare professionals and leaders at Aspen Valley Hospital (AVH), we are writing to both raise the “yellow flag” that COVID-19 is a serious threat to our lives and well-being, and to offer encouragement that our community’s fate rests firmly within our collective hands.

As of this writing, AVH has just been elevated to the “cautious” level of our Capacity Matrix in the category related to daily COVID-19 visits to our Emergency Department, Respiratory Evaluation Center and Community Testing. In the past two weeks, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of people seeking testing for COVID-like symptoms, and positive test results. We expected to see an increase, and we are managing it with expanded testing availability, but caution is now strongly advised.

While it is true that we remain “comfortable” with regard to the number of patients in the hospital, this should not be reassuring. The lifecycle of Quick read more or view full article the virus would indicate that severely ill conditions will follow the initial onset of symptoms by 1-2 weeks. We consider the increase in daily visits to have a high predictive value as an early indicator of what we will likely experience—increased severely and critically ill patients. And potential deaths. It is at that point that our reopening will be at risk.

But this doesn’t have to be our fate. Our County’s Roadmap to Reopening provides the solution. It is as simple as all of us maintaining the Five Commitments to Containment, with which we are all familiar by now: 6-foot distancing, hand hygiene, face coverings, and staying home and getting tested when we don’t feel well. It isn’t hard.

Please hear our plea! As a community we can set an example for our guests and visitors, and create a culture of caring about one another. After all, that is what social distancing and face coverings are all about. We may be protecting ourselves in the process, but the greatest value of our compliance is the demonstration of respect and caring for others. Please help us send a loud and clear message through our actions that wearing face coverings and keeping our distances are not about ourselves, but about each other – those we care about and those we don’t even know. This is about saving lives. Maintaining face coverings and at least six feet of separation, and avoiding confined, crowded spaces with poor circulation, will slow the transmission of the virus. That will allow us to continue to reopen and restore our vital economy, jobs and our well-being.

Before you head out to dinner, or a social event, or to work, we hope you will consider what you can do to be part of a caring community. Our actions will speak louder than our words, and together we can create a culture that is apparent to all who witness it, and inspire other communities as Aspen has always done. Most importantly, we will signal to each person we are with that we respect them, and we care about their health.

AVH will continue to be there for all who need us. And we will provide extraordinary healthcare in an environment of excellence, compassion and trust. You can count us. Can we count on you to do your part for one another, for your community, and for our future?
Dave Ressler
CEO, Aspen Valley Hospital
Dr. Catherine Bernard
Chief of Staff, Aspen Valley Hospital Read Less
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2020 Rescue Fund supports expanded COVID-19 testing at AVH

July 2, 2020
2020 Rescue Fund supports expanded COVID-19 testing at Aspen Valley Hospital with $470,000 grant

As communities across the country work to safely reopen their economies, one critical element of nearly every plan involves readily available testing for COVID-19. Pitkin County is no exception.

The 2020 Rescue Fund at the Aspen Community Foundation has committed $470,000 to support Pitkin County Public Health-directed testing that is not paid for by insurance carriers, and to help the community get back on its feet.

“We wanted to get involved with testing, which is an essential part of any recovery plan for the city, the valley and the country,” explains Bob Hurst, one of three Aspen philanthropists who created the 2020 Rescue Fund and have so far raised over $5 million to support organizations throughout the region that are playing a critical role in our COVID-19 response.
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The Aspen Valley Hospital Foundation (AVHF) received the grant on behalf of AVH, and the hospital is working with Pitkin County Public Health to ensure testing is available through the end of the year. Specifically, the testing will support Public Health’s management of viral outbreaks, and will provide additional funding to support PCR testing needs that are identified by Public Health officials as necessary to protect vulnerable and at-risk populations. All testing will be conducted by AVH.

“Testing is absolutely vital for people to understand whether they are sick or not sick and to have the confidence they need to function,” Hurst says. “The same holds for businesses that need to know their employees are healthy and safe, and to help them interact safely with their customers.

The 2020 Rescue Fund was conceived by Hurst, Melony Lewis and Jerry Greenwald back in March, as communities around the world were shutting down their economies and directing people to stay home.

“We are thinking about how we can be of help to the community,” Hurst says. “In order to make this fund work, we needed to identify which organizations to support, how to do so efficiently and in a thoughtful way that directs funds where they are most needed.”

The 2020 Rescue Fund was established as a charitable fund at the Aspen Community Foundation and has so far distributed more than $2.4 million to 25 social service agencies that provide for health needs, food distribution, financial assistance, behavioral health, legal aid, and shelter and rent subsidies to individuals and families between Aspen and Parachute.
Through the grant to AVHF, the Fund expands its support network to help small businesses. “We wanted to get involved in testing, and we are looking at ways to provide meaningful support for small businesses as well,” Hurst says. “This is a good way to do both.”
Hurst credits the 106 donors who have so far given to the 2020 Rescue Fund for recognizing the need. “People have so much anxiety between the economic crisis, the health crisis, the social stresses that are occurring, so anything we can do to help relieve people’s anxiety is absolutely critical,” he said.

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