John F. Russell’s top 6 stories of 2017 | SteamboatToday.com

John F. Russell’s top 6 stories of 2017

Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Frank May, left, and Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center of the Rockies, pull a temporary covering off the sign at the entrance to the hospital.

UCHealth, Yampa Valley Medical Center merge

It was a symbolic moment in September as Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Frank May, and Kevin Unger, president and CEO of Poudre Valley Hospital and Medical Center, lifted the heavy white sheet that covered the new sign outside the Steamboat Springs hospital that has served generations of residents in the northern corner of Colorado

The moment recognized the merger of Yampa Valley Medical Center and UCHeath, something the two major health providers had been working on for months. UCHeath is a nonprofit health care system that includes Poudre Valley Hospital, UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital Medical Center of the Rockies, UCHealth Medical Group, Broomfield Hospital, Grandview Hospital, Longs Peak Hospital, the University of Colorado Hospital and UC Health’s Memorial Hospital Central in Colorado Springs.

May said the merger will result in better health care for people living in Northwest Colorado. Unger said he sees UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center as a hub for health care in Northwest Colorado. He said the hospital will continue to be involved in the community, provide a high level of care and, for the most part, have local leadership.

Freestanding emergency center opens in Steamboat

Freestanding emergency rooms are commonplace in larger metropolitan area across the United States, but not Steamboat Springs.

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In November, longtime emergency room doctor Dallas Bailes changed all that when he and his partners opened the Steamboat Emergency Center at the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road, in the former Staples building.

In Bailes' business model, the staff at the Steamboat Emergency Center is made up of board-certified doctors or physicians with significant emergency room experience. Because the physicians are also part owners of the business, Bailes said they will be able to make critical decisions in a timely manner and provide both efficient and high-level care at the seven-day-per-week, 24-hour care center.

How the new center will fit in with the Emergency Department at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medial Center and the Urgent Care Center at Steamboat Medical Group has yet to be seen and will surely unfold in 2018.

The Rhode to understanding

In August, Mara Rhodes was named as the regional coordinator for the RX Task Force — a nonprofit organization that deals with the issues surrounding addiction to prescription pain medication and heroin and is dedicated to educating people across Northwest Colorado, including Steamboat Springs, about the epidemic.

Rhodes, who has been involved with the task force from its inception, was a natural choice for the position, and has been a voice for these issues for several years. In 2016 she joined forces with Ken Davis, of the Northwest Colorado Community Health Partnership, to help start a series of public forums to address opiates and the issues surrounding addiction as part of the lunch and learn series. The grassroots effort continued in 2017 with three more forums that were held at Library hall and open to the public.

Still dreaming

Thaina Nunez studies in the library at Colorado Mesa University where she is attending college.

In early September, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump Administration would phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals — DACA —program over the next six months, and leave it to Congress to fix. For many former and current Steamboat Springs residents that has meant a lot of sleepless nights and a very uncertain future.

“I have a nightmare that I was in a store in Mexico and that I didn’t know what the currency was,” said Thaina Nunez, a junior at Colorado Mesa University. “I mean I can tell you what a penny looks like, and I can tell you what a quarter looks like, but I am nowhere familiar with the currency in Mexico. It’s things like that, paying for groceries, those are unconscious fears of mine that are coming up in my dreams."

Nunez is a product of the Steamboat Springs educational system, has received her associates degree from Colorado Mountain College and is pursuing a bachelor's degree in science and accounting and a master’s degree in business administration at Colorado Mesa University.

DACA was an immigration policy that allowed some individuals who entered the country as minors, and had either entered or remained in the country illegally, to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and to be eligible for a work permit. As of 2017, approximately 800,000 individuals — referred to as Dreamers after the DREAM Act bill — were enrolled in the program created by DACA. The policy was established by the Obama Administration in June 2012 and rescinded by the Trump administration in September 2017.

Nunez's story puts a personal face on the issue, as she still waits for Congress to see if she will be able to pursue her dreams in the United States or move to a country she's never known.

"Chair" ity

The phones were ringing off the hook at the offices of the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. on Sept. 25 as the public was offered a chance to buy a little piece of Steamboat history. A limited number of chairs from the original Storm Peak Lift were put up for sale, and it only took 28 minutes for the 75 chairs to be claimed. At $250 each, the proceeds from the sale of the chairs generated funds for grants Ski Corp. awards through the Yampa Valley Community Foundation.

“We are thrilled that people enjoy our chairlifts and want them to be a part of their lives," said Loryn Kasten, Ski Corp. senior communications manager.

White turns gold

In a town full of Olympians, Steamboat Springs resident Sue White skied her way into the hearts of locals on March 21 when she earned a gold medal in the Special Olympics World Winter Games in the giant slalom race.

“It’s my thing,” White will tell you with a huge smile on her face. “I ski twice a week on Sundays and Tuesdays."

White is part of the Horizons Specialized Services in Steamboat Springs, and skis with STARS (Steamboat Adaptive Recreational Sports) in the winters. She said she has been skiing for years, but until last winter, has never won a gold medal.

The moment came after she was invited to take part in the Special Olympics World Winter Games — an event that allowed her to travel and compete in Austria.

She was one of three athletes from Colorado and one of 139 from across the U.S. who competed.

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.