Hospital pursues affiliation with New York powerhouse |

Hospital pursues affiliation with New York powerhouse

Eben Harrell
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Officials at Aspen Valley Hospital are pursuing affiliation with a major New York hospital in hopes of establishing AVH as a “destination” orthopedic center.

The agreement, if it goes through, would establish a three-way partnership between the hospital, Orthopaedic Associates of Aspen and Glenwood Springs, and the Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS), a Manhattan hospital with world-renowned orthopedic specialists.

The negotiations began recently at the behest of the hospital board, which is attempting to pull AVH out of a financial crisis. Because of the name recognition of HSS, board members hope the affiliation will attract patients from around the country to Aspen, bringing in millions of dollars. HSS is a leader in elective joint-replacement surgery, such as knee and hip replacements.

Local orthopedic surgeons have so far expressed cautious support for the deal.

The move comes during a time of great change at the Steadman-Hawkins orthopedic clinic in Vail, Aspen’s main orthopedic rival that attracts patients from around the world. Dr. Hawkins left Vail recently for a practice in South Carolina and Dr. Steadman is nearing retirement age.

Interim CEO Dr. Bob Karp, who is pursuing negotiations on behalf of AVH, said affiliation with HSS, along with bringing patients to Aspen, will also improve patient care. He said HSS, which performs more than 16,000 orthopedic operations a year, could help nursing staff and administrators better handle elective orthopedic surgeries.

“HSS has vast experience with elective orthopedic surgeries,” Karp said. “If they can share the lessons they have learned through their experience, our care will greatly improve.”

Sources at Orthopaedic Associates say Aspen’s surgeons support the move, but hold concerns. When initially told of the negotiations, the surgeons were concerned that their reputation would be sacrificed for the name recognition of the New York hospital.

Aspen’s surgeons are themselves well-respected: Dr. Tom Pevney and Dr. Thomas St. John are renowned joint-replacement specialists, the field in which HSS specializes.

Dr. Karp said that if the partnership goes through, Orthopaedic Associates would maintain their name and professional autonomy. He said that changes suggested to AVH would center around nursing and administration, not surgery.

“Along with the orthopedists, I would be offended if [these negotiations] were perceived by anyone to be because of an inadequacy on the part of our surgeons,” Dr. Karp said. “We are playing to our strength here.”

Another concern expressed by Aspen’s surgeons was that pinning AVH’s hopes on becoming a “destination hospital” for joint-replacement surgery is risky. Most patients who receive joint replacements are elderly and might be reluctant to come to altitude for a major orthopedic surgery.

Dr. Karp countered that recent improvements in joint replacement has made it an attractive option for an increasingly younger demographic.

John Reynolds, the president and CEO of HSS, said that affiliating with New York will automatically help AVH’s coffers by keeping Aspen residents in-district.

“We see a lot of Aspen patients here,” Reynolds said. “For the people that might normally come to New York, if they see the HSS method is being used in Aspen they might stay there.”

AVH board member John Jellinek, who recently had a hip replacement, elected to have the surgery at the New York center.

Reynolds said that HSS already has an affiliation with a recently opened London hospital that performs elective joint replacements. So far, the arrangement has been a great success and promises to offer an important financial and professional resource for Britain’s struggling National Health Service, according to Reynolds.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is]