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Status of Aspen orthopedic surgeons in question under Steadman negotiations

Aspen Valley Hospital.
Aspen Times File

As Aspen Valley Hospital negotiates with The Steadman Clinic to take over local orthopedic operations, longtime, tenured surgeons with OrthoAspen are not being asked to stay.

The five orthopedic doctors under the employ of AVH were given a six-month termination notice June 1 in anticipation that a deal with The Steadman Clinic to absorb OrthoAspen would be inked by December.

The move allowed the physicians to negotiate separately with Steadman.

On Thursday, some doctors were notified they won’t be on the Steadman team.

Leelee von Stade, who specializes in trauma care, sports medicine and knee replacements, confirmed Sunday that she has not been invited by Steadman to stay on.

Von Stade, who was a partner in the original Aspen Orthopaedics Associates before it dissolved and surgeons became employees of AVH in 2016, said she is sad to not be able to continue giving care to her patients as she has for nearly two decades.

“I love my community and I love taking care of my community,” she said.

AVH CEO Dave Ressler said Monday that The Steadman Clinic is still negotiating with surgeons who it has identified for inclusion in the new practice.

“From AVH’s perspective, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on the discussions that The Steadman Clinic is having with the surgeons,” he said.

He added that the Steadman Clinic and AVH consider the status of those surgeons and their names to not be appropriate for public dissemination, out of respect for the individuals involved.

“They are focused on building a full complement of surgeons to provide an expanded continuum of world-class orthopedic care,” Ressler said. “The team will consist of physicians from AVH’s OrthoAspen practice, physicians from the Steadman Clinic and recruited surgeons with a strong tie to The Steadman Clinic and their culture.”

Steadman is not signing a majority of the seven surgeons who work at OrthoAspen, according to sources close to operation. A Steadman Clinic spokesperson deferred questions about “physician selection” to AVH officials.

AVH has signed a letter of intent with The Steadman Clinic, and the two entities are actively engaged in finalizing the documents associated with a strategic partnership, which is expected to be completed later this summer.

Ressler said as soon as the final roster is completed, at the time of the agreements being finalized, the surgeons’ names and specifics will be released.

He also said the transition from Aspen’s established surgeons is not reflective of the quality of care they’ve provided or their dedication.

“We’ve appreciated the services they’ve provided for many decades,” he said. “It’s difficult, but we believe we are headed in the right direction.”

The doctors employed by AVH are von Stade, Waqqar Kahn-Farooqi, Thea Wojtkowski, Namdar Kazemi and Tom Pevny. Doctors Mark Purnell and Stanley Gertzbain are on contract with AVH.

Ressler said the Steadman Clinic is looking to build a team of doctors who offer orthopedic specialties.

It’s unknown what the status will be for the other employees who work at OrthoAspen but Ressler said there is an expectation that most of them would be retained.

AVH has been having ongoing dialogue about its orthopedic services, which led to discussions with The Steadman Clinic.

The clinic in 2018 purchased a piece of land at the Willits development in Basalt and has been eying locations in Aspen.

“When they decided to have a strong presence in the valley, we wanted to not have redundancy and join forces,” Ressler said. “Our ultimate objective and Steadman’s is to bring world-class orthopedic services to our community and to our visitors.”

The Steadman Clinic, which has locations in Vail, Frisco and Edwards, is world-renowned for its orthopedic services, research and work with professional athletes.

When asked if joining forces was a result of a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality with new competition, Ressler said he would characterize it as a “win-win opportunity.”

“There are excellent opportunities with Steadman,” he said, adding that at the beginning of the discussions, AVH was skeptical. “But we found them to be excellent partners.”

The elimination of OrthoAspen will end a 63-year run for local orthopedics.

Aspen Orthopaedic Associates, where Pevny and Purnell, along with von Stade worked, shut down in 2015.

Pevny declined to comment and Purnell did not return a voicemail Monday.

Those three surgeons had private-practice privileges at the hospital before becoming employees when Aspen Orthopaedic Associates disbanded and OrthoAspen was created.

Aspen Orthopaedic Associates began in 1957 when Dr. Robert Oden founded the group, making it the Western Slope’s first clinic of its kind.

But the medical group’s business model began to flounder in early 2015 after physicians left for other medical facilities, such as Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

Couple that with decreasing reimbursements and increasing costs, the physicians began negotiating employment at AVH.

In 2013, Orthopaedic Associates moved from its Main Street offices to the hospital. The clinic had been located on Main Street for 55 years.

It’s anticipated that The Steadman Clinic will take over that same space at AVH that has been OrthoAspen since 2016.

The Steadman Clinic also still plans to have a presence at Willits in Basalt.

Ressler said the partnership would bring top-notch orthopedic care to Roaring Fork Valley residents.

“Change is very difficult and this has been a rigorous process,” Ressler said. “We are pleased with the openness and discussions with Steadman.”

csackariason@aspentimes.com


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