‘It’s history in the making’: Seven decades of groundbreaking orthopaedics in Aspen
As Vail-based The Steadman Clinic prepares to establish itself in Aspen, it replaces a 63-year run for local orthopaedic operations that started with a visionary who came to a fledgling ski resort determined to make it a world-class location for orthopedic care, sports medicine and research.
Steadman is currently in the process of renovating the OrthoAspen office at Aspen Valley Hospital to take possession Dec. 1 and begin its operations.
OrthoAspen, which is the second generation of Aspen Orthopaedic Associates that was founded by Dr. Bob Odén in 1957, will be disbanded.
Longtime tenured doctors who were part of the original orthopaedic group were not asked to stay on with Steadman. Dr. Mark Purnell and Dr. Tom Pevny, who came to Aspen Orthopaedic Associates as fellows in the mid-1980s and 1990s, respectively, are joining Valley View Hospital’s growing ValleyOrtho operation.
They will see patients at ValleyOrtho’s new Aspen location in Obermeyer Place that will open Dec. 1, creating direct competition with Steadman.
“We are proud to officially open our new ValleyOrtho office in downtown Aspen and welcome Dr. Pevny and Dr. Purnell to our dedicated group of providers,” said Brian Murphy, CEO of Valley View. “This new location will allow our patients to see their highly respected physicians and surgeons conveniently near their homes.”
The CEOs of both AVH and The Steadman Clinic said they didn’t anticipate that type of direct competition forming, but acknowledged that the community will benefit from having a cadre of skilled doctors to choose from.
“One of the major decisions to partner with The Steadman Clinic was to avoid duplication and redundancy of services,” said Dave Ressler, CEO of AVH. “However, we think it’s good for the community.”
Dan Drawbaugh, CEO of The Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute, said competition is normal in the marketplace when a new player comes to town.
“From my perspective, we look forward to competing with Valley View and we feel that our partnership with Aspen Valley Hospital is unique and differentiating, but that will be a patient decision,” he said, acknowledging that there’s loyalty from some community members to the established orthopaedists.
The Steadman Clinic entered the local market when it purchased land in Willits in Basalt in 2018. Its new $60 million surgery center is under construction there. Steadman had also been eyeing locations in Aspen.
Their presence prompted AVH to begin talks with Steadman and ultimately join forces. Drawbaugh said conversations with AVH began three years ago. He said The Steadman Clinic had been thinking about establishing itself in the Aspen market since 2008, and then a trend emerged a few years ago that triggered the move.
“We were seeing a significant increase in the number of patients to the clinic from the Roaring Fork Valley and the numbers continue to increase,” Drawbaugh said. “We felt it would be tremendous to go to where our patients are, instead of always making them come to us.”
The goal of the partnership is to establish Aspen as a world-renowned location for destination medicine.
“Obviously, Aspen is a brand in and of itself and has people coming from all over the world to ski and we believe that people will come from all over the world for medicine as well,” Drawbaugh said, noting that Steadman will also bring a new level of education, research and peer review related to orthopaedics.
Ressler said that when he came to AVH in 2004, he has participated in discussions with local orthopaedists and others on how to elevate the practice to a destination program.
“It only makes sense to build upon the lifestyle Aspen promotes,” he said. “The Steadman Clinic was the model we were observing on how they were elevating their success in that area.”
Orthopaedic care in the making
The foundation of a world-class, research and education-based approach to orthopaedic medicine in Aspen has been built upon for more than six decades by local doctors, who followed in the footsteps of Dr. Odén.
He arrived in Aspen when lift-served skiing was in its eighth year. He studied at Northwestern University, Augustana Hospital and Hines VA and Shriner’s Hospital.
Odén was the first orthopaedist on the Western Slope. He founded Orthopaedic Associates, which was the first orthopaedic clinic that served Aspen, Vail, Glenwood Springs and Rifle.
Odén was considered a pioneer in the medical field, who traveled all over the world and brought innovative ideas back to Aspen to be employed in the medical practice, according to Dr. Purnell, who was Odén’s last fellow.
Odén and his team made a lot of advances in orthopaedic care since his arrival in 1957 when plaster and traction were the treatment for most fractures and ligament injuries.
In 1962, the first successful metal on plastic hip replacement was done, according to a presentation by Purnell to the AVH Foundation in 2018.
“He was always interested in seeking out new ideas and technology to improve medical care,” Purnell said of Odén.
“He participated in numerous medical exchanges in the U.S. and Europe … he ushered in modern surgical orthopaedics to Aspen and he recruited new talent to Aspen.”
His entrepreneurial spirit also came through when he started the first on-mountain medical clinics at both Snowmass and Vail.
Odén became part of both the Colorado Ski Hall of Fame and the U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame for his extensive contributions to sports medicine. Specifically, he was recruited to be the U.S. Ski Team physician at the Olympics in Squaw Valley, and he was the first chief orthopedic surgeon for the U.S. Ski Team and continued in that role until 1980.
Purnell is the longest tenured surgeon from Odén’s practice and has continued his legacy of research-based sports medicine and orthopaedics throughout the decades, including cutting-edge ACL arthroscopic procedures and knee replacements. Aspen Orthopaedics was the first in Colorado to do a robotic knee replacement, Purnell noted.
“We had a great program here, things went very well,” Purnell recalled, adding the practice had well-known fellowship and research and development programs.
It was university caliber orthopaedics in a small community hospital, according to Purnell.
“Education was extremely important to Bob,” Purnell said in his presentation. “He started the Aspen Sports Medicine Fellowship in the ’70s that has educated more than 50 fellows over the years. He was a clinical professor and educated medical students, and later we included a resident training program. He was instrumental in bringing nationally recognized conferences to Aspen.”
Purnell stayed after his fellowship to do research and development of treatment for the epidemic of the day in Aspen, which was ACL injuries.
“By 1985 we were developing something new for the world of sports orthopaedics,” he said. “Arthroscopic ACL reconstruction, we had it perfected by 1987.”
Purnell said Odén also helped establish the Vail clinic and brought his research and cutting edge methodologies to area surgeons, including Dr. Richard Steadman.
Odén realized his limitations and had no qualms about bringing in physicians to Aspen to make up for his deficiencies, including Drs. Rod Kirk, John Freeman, Jim Weaver and Mike Berkeley, Purnell said.
They, along with dozens of other doctors at Orthopaedic Associates of Aspen and Glenwood, worked out of their Main Street office for 55 years.
In 2013, Orthopaedic Associates moved to the hospital and within two years the business shut down and its physicians became employees of AVH under a new name, OrthoAspen.
There are differing viewpoints on why and how that happened. Some described it as a takeover, and others characterized it as a bailout to a practice that was floundering due to physicians leaving for other medical facilities like Valley View in Glenwood Springs, as well as decreasing reimbursements and increasing overhead costs.
AVH turned its focus on improving OrthoAspen’s operational efficiencies and signed a contract in 2018 with New York-based Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), the No. 1 orthopedic hospital in the country.
That contract was terminated this past July, as AVH’s relationship with Steadman was moving forward and COVID-19 changed how HSS handled patient care.
“It was in the light of that confluence of unforeseen events that the hospitals mutually agreed that the interests of HSS and AVH are best met by ending the association,” according to an HSS spokesperson sent through a public relations firm.
Ressler said HSS accomplished a lot during its short tenure with AVH, and he and the hospital board of directors did not take the ending of the relationship lightly.
Purnell and Pevny will join a team at Valley View of well-established physicians, some of whom they’ve worked with previously.
Valley View Hospital has recently acquired the space that OrthoAspen operated out of in the midvalley surgery center building in Basalt.
It is currently being renovated and will become the midvalley presence for ValleyOrtho.
“We are still in the planning phases but look forward to sharing more details shortly with our patients and community,” Murphy, the CEO of Valley View, said. “Valley View has worked together with Aspen Valley Hospital for decades and we’ve always valued that relationship. While there is change in the orthopaedics space, our work together to provide cancer care, urologic, neurosurgical and other specialty care continues as a powerful reflection of our commitment to the community.”
Purnell, an independent contractor who still has surgery privleges at AVH during the transition, also will do procedures at Valley View, as will Pevny.
They join Ferdinand “Tito” Liotta, MD; Christopher George, MD; Michael Grillot, MD; Chad Mahan, MD; and Noel Armstrong, DPM at ValleyOrtho, formerly Glenwood Orthopedics Center and Foot and Ankle Center at Valley View.
Patients are backed by the entire Valley View network of care that includes fellowship-trained radiologists and an all-star surgical team, according to Murphy.
Meanwhile, the two physicians at OrthoAspen who will join The Steadman Clinic are Drs. Waqqar Kahn-Farooqi and Thea Wojtkowski.
They will join with three locally based Steadman physicians — Drs. Dustin Anderson, Joe Ruzbarsky and Jared Lee, the latter of whom is the medical director of the Aspen clinic.
Several other specialists will rotate throughout the weeks from Steadman’s Vail clinic.
“I think this is a great team, they’re oriented to work towards teamwork, collaboration, making sure that the patient gets to the right doctor in every single case,” Drawbaugh said.
And with the Steadman Philippon Research Institute planned to be established in 2021 in Aspen, the team will conduct clinical trials, and continue the research and education that has been part of the orthopeadic landscape since Odén’s arrival.
“Orthopaedics has always been important to the community and important to Aspen Valley Hospital and there is a long and proud history of providing extraordinary care that’s never been broken,” Ressler said. “The Steadman Clinic is part of that continuum of care, and as Aspen Valley Hospital we recognize this is another chapter of orthopaedics.
“It’s history in the making.”
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