Steamboat Springs Dr. Dan Smilkstein is back with patients at South Routt Medical Center in Oak Creek.
Eight years after he left a physician position at the center, Smilkstein will be the new medical director after the board ratifies the hiring Jan. 7.
When he left the center, it was after 12 years in Oak Creek. The center was different then, he said. It was before it was declared a tax district and before needed upgrades were tackled.
Smilkstein went on to become the medical director of North Park Medical Center in Walden, and he works for Steamboat Medical Group. He was finishing the transition out of the position in Walden when he was approached by the South Routt Medical Center board to step in as a physician while they looked for a new medical director.
But what started as a temporary position in a familiar place grew on him.
“It has a very different feel from any other place you go to,” Smilkstein said. “It’s the old, small community-style clinic. … It’s sort of refreshing.”
There’s a front desk, exam and waiting rooms, and some space for the physical therapy specialist and the dentist who travels to the center each month.
Smilkstein said he cherishes the easy interaction that comes with physical closeness of the space.
For those who’ve spent some time in medicine, he said, it’s common to rebel — “internally, at least” — from the colder, more distant trends in institutionalized health care.
The center also departs from the standard in its funding structure.
“Medicine tends to be very fee for service, which is a bad model for medicine,” Smilkstein said. The incentive becomes to see more patients and do more tests, he said.
In 2006, South Routt residents voted to declare the center a tax district and help financially support it.
“The philosophy now is to serve the community,” Smilkstein said. “We can work in a different way.”
The center isn’t giving away all its services for free, but because of the tax base, it can survive without squeezing patients for more tests and fees, he said.
“The community has given to support the clinic, and they want to give back in some creative ways that you might not be able to do in a traditional fee-for-service model," he said.
Smilkstein said he wants to continue to expand the services offered by the center in as cost-effective a manner as possible, knowing they won’t be able to do everything.
The South Routt Medical Center board is working toward expanding the building, and Smilkstein said he plans to hold community discussions covering wellness issues and getting people engaged with their health decisions.
“Helping people to understand what their numbers mean, making them better medical consumers,” Smilkstein said about the focus of the discussions. “Patients are consumers now and more involved with their health care.”
South Routt Medical Center board President Ann Trout described Smilkstein as the type of individual who’ll collaborate with the town of Oak Creek and South Routt residents.
Trout said that when he asked to be considered for the position, the board was swayed by Smilkstein’s previous health experience and his involvement in outdoor activities.
It’s a “huge part of Routt County: the love affair with the outdoors,” Trout said.
Smilkstein will continue to spend about one day per week with Steamboat Medical Group and his regular time in Oak Creek likely will be two days per week.
“I don’t think about retirement as long as have something I can work on and enjoy,” he said.
To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206 or email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com