Steamboat Springs Christine McKelvie, who devoted three decades to taking care that Steamboat Springs’ hospital remained the “heartbeat of the valley,” retires Tuesday as director of public relations at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Dr. Larry Bookman, YVMC’s chief medical officer, said McKelvie came to personify the hospital throughout the course of her career there.
“She was the public voice of the hospital for years,” Bookman said. “She wrote great articles, she was on the radio and she was out there delivering the message all the time.”
McKelvie said Monday that although she originally set out on a career in journalism, she found that as she grew into her role, first at the old Routt Memorial Hospital and later at YVMC, she came to realize how closely her personal ethos aligned with the mission of the hospital.
“The people — the employees, physicians and volunteers — are the heartbeat of Yampa Valley Medical Center,” McKelvie said. “It’s been a privilege to shine a spotlight on what they do 24/7.”
Her job entailed working with the news media and developing informational brochures and annual reports. But McKelvie took her role well beyond the basics of public relations. One area in which she was able to make a direct impact on the lives and health of members of the community was in the ongoing Monday Medical columns in the Steamboat Today and “Taking Care of Me” seminars.
The first Monday Medical column published in the Feb. 14, 2000, edition of the Steamboat Today, and it naturally dealt with matters of the heart — cardiac health, that is.
“She was very committed to helping the public understand issues with the hospital and health care through the Monday Medical and Taking Care of Me programs,” former hospital CEO Karl Gills said Monday.
McKelvie said one of the most rewarding aspects of the weekly column was derived from the people who stepped forward to share the personal details of living with a health condition in order that others might be able to learn from their experiences and possibly avoid the same condition.
“That has been very inspirational,” McKelvie said. “It comes back to the community and what a special place this is.”
McKelvie graduated with a journalism degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1973 and that same year drove in her red Mustang to the Yampa Valley to begin a career as a newspaper reporter and copy editor.
She worked at the Hayden Valley Press and the Craig Daily Press before moving over to the weekly Steamboat Pilot in 1977.
“They gave me a desk between the printing press and the garage doors,” McKelvie recalled wryly.
Many Tuesday nights it was McKelvie who trudged back from City Council chambers through the snow with midnight approaching to turn in a story so the news wouldn’t have to wait a full week before appearing in the Wednesday paper.
After McKelvie’s son, James, was born in 1982, she decided to back off on those late nights and became a part-time copy editor. She also wrote the social column with the catchy name “People Department.”
It was at just about the same time that Routt Memorial Hospital board member Terry Hefty asked McKelvie to work on an as-needed basis to produce brochures and a newsletter for the hospital.
Eventually the old hospital on Grand Street gave way to the regional health care facility that YVMC has grown into.
McKelvie was there to reassure and educate the community about the big new hospital campus.
There were trying moments in McKelvie’s career, when medical emergencies put Steamboat and the hospital in the national spotlight, but Bookman and Gills agreed that McKelvie was up to the challenge.
“A significant part of her job was working with media outlets and her knowledge of that world helped her,” Gills said. “Obviously, she knew the boundaries of protecting patient privacy, but also recognized that there’s a public interest out there. Limitations weren’t what the media wanted to hear, but she walked that tightrope of constantly changing laws.”
Bookman said McKelvie’s even temperament was well suited to the job.
“She was a steady force through whatever ups and downs there were,” he said. “She kept everything in perspective and gave a measured response to whatever she needed to deal with.”
Most of all, McKelvie wanted to share knowledge of health care issues that had the potential to make a difference.
“It’s just so important to share accurate and interesting information and help ensure people have the opportunity to live healthy lives,” she said.
The hospital hosted a retirement party for McKelvie on Monday afternoon. Tuesday is her last day of work. She’s not sure what will come next, but it will involve travel with her husband, Bill, and more time with their adult children James and Laura.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com