Monday Medical: Doc Willett: Past, present, future |

Monday Medical: Doc Willett: Past, present, future

Tamera Manzanares/For the Steamboat Today

The Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Awards have become a treasured community institution.

Perhaps that's because the health care professionals they honor have made indelible marks on the quality of health services available in our rural region of the state.

"What we have here in Steamboat and the Yampa Valley is an incredible hospital and physician support that is not normally seen in a community of this size," said Diane Tarnoff, board chairwoman for the Healthcare Foundation for the Yampa Valley. "It's important for all of us to appreciate this and not take it for granted."

The upcoming awards, presented by the Healthcare Foundation, were established in memory of Dr. Frederick E. Willett, who served Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area for 56 years.

Doc Willett was tirelessly devoted to his patients, making house calls to remote homes even in the dead of winter, and to the town's hospital, which he owned and operated between 1914 and 1950. He grew the hospital into a sustainable, modern facility and planted the seeds for it to become a nonprofit organization, the same organization that now operates Yampa Valley Medical Center.

The awards recognize health care professionals and advocates who are advancing Doc Willett's forward-thinking vision and commitment to meeting residents' health care needs.

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This year's honorees are longtime Steamboat Springs internal medicine physician Dr. Mark McCaulley and Sue Birch, executive director of Colorado's Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and former CEO of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

Today's rural doctors may not rely on horse-drawn sleighs to connect with patients, but they face a host of different challenges.

"Medical care, and medicine in general, is so much more complex than it was in Doc Willett's day," said Dr. Larry Bookman, YVMC's chief medical officer and 2009 award recipient. "It's harder to be on top of everything that is potentially available to help take care of patients."

Rural health care professionals must efficiently address a myriad of health issues among small, spread-out populations that cannot support the range of specialty care found in urban areas.

Locally, Doc Willett's legacy has helped foster innovative thinking and creativity, resulting in exceptional health care services for our communities. This is highlighted at YVMC, which has specialty programs and technology, including its cardiology program and sophisticated diagnostic imaging, not typical of small-town hospitals.

Health care advocates recognize gaps in care and find ways to bring new services and progressive health programs into local hospitals and clinics. They think of the future, anticipate challenges and devise new and better ways to care for our communities.

The medical world will continue to evolve and change, but compassion will remain a driving force for those charged with shaping the future of health care in the Yampa Valley.

"Doc Willett was completely dedicated to his patients, and he did whatever it took to deliver health care to the population he was serving," Bookman said. "For those of us continuing in this profession, that is the No. 1 goal. Everything else flows from that."

The Doc Willett Health Care Heritage Awards take place Aug. 24 at the Strings Music Pavilion. A cocktail reception is at 6:30 p.m. followed by awards and entertainment at 8 p.m. Event proceeds benefit YVMC. For more information, call 970-871-0700 or visit

Tamera Manzanares is a community outreach specialist for the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

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