It was that particular scream that rang out over 4th of July as our family vacationed in Crested Butte. Hours away from the hustle and bustle of Denver, Crested Butte offers stunning Rocky Mountain views and much-needed respites from the city. Wide open spaces are great when you want to escape the city, but not-so-terrific when your 6-year- old daughter is howling blood-curdling screams after a playground injury.
After rushing to her attention, we knew there was a significant injury, and we needed to get her to a doctor. This is a routine proposition in Denver. After all, there are dozens of hospitals, walk-in clinics, urgent care centers and doctors’ offices within mere miles of our house. However, in this rural mountain town, finding a working physician was challenging, and our experience exposed the enormous difficulties many Coloradans face every single day.
The nearest full service hospital is in Gunnison, about 30 miles away. There is an emergency clinic in Crested Butte, but it was closed over the holiday weekend. And to make it more complicated, the town’s big parade was literally blocking the clinic’s entrance. We learned there was a doctor who could help in the Mt. Crested Butte area, and he would be back in his office at 1 p.m. that afternoon – hours from the time our daughter was hurt.
While we applied ice to her injury and tried to soothe our little girl, we discussed our options: drive 30+ miles to the hospital which could be complicated due to holiday traffic, or wait for the doctor to return. For a parent with a child who is clearly in pain, this is a stressful and difficult decision.
It occurred to me that this unfamiliar choice of determining how best to access our limited health care options is one that many Coloradans experience. One can only imagine the difficult choices people face when the situation is truly life threatening or urgent. In these cases, minutes or even hours can make a big difference when it comes to accessing care.
In our case, we opted to wait for the physician to return. His professionalism and capabilities were evident. After a quick X-ray we learned our daughter’s arm was indeed broken, and the physician provided her with terrific care. We also noticed that his office was packed with people who needed care ranging from flu-like symptoms to managing long-term chronic illness. I was in awe by the nimble, caring and effective way this physician treated his patients who came from a variety of backgrounds and had different abilities to pay for care.
This experience has made it clear to me: We need to support our health providers across rural areas to ensure they have the resources necessary to continue to meet their community’s needs. They are clearly the backbone of our state.
(This post is written by Claire Mylott, a mom and communications expert at GroundFloor Media in Denver.)