Valley View Hospital emergency physicians express support for Glenwood Springs Airport |

Valley View Hospital emergency physicians express support for Glenwood Springs Airport

Matthew Bennett
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Emergency Dr. Ben Peery stands on the helipad connected to Valley View Hospital. The helipad is utilized by Classic Air Medical and other air medical helicopters, which also use the Glenwood Springs Airport for refueling and maintenance..
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

On Feb. 5, a patient at Valley View Hospital was scheduled for a type of surgery that, while common along the Front Range, was the first time being done in Glenwood Springs.

That same day, a rock slide shut down Interstate 70 through Glenwood Canyon.

“I walk in and the patient is lying on the bed ready to go and the word is the surgeon is stuck on the other side of the rock slide,” Valley View Cardiovascular Anesthesiologist Dr. Ronald Stevens said.

Instead of postponing the procedure, Stevens — a pilot for over 40 years — flew to Eagle, picked up the surgeon and flew back to Glenwood.

According to Stevens, the heart procedure was completed, the patient did great and was able to go home.

“It just illustrates the utility of general aviation,” Stevens said of Glenwood’s small airport, the future of which is being analyzed by the city.

“The (Glenwood Springs Airport) is really an asset that I think … flies under everybody’s radar. They don’t really notice it or it doesn’t seem very valuable or useful, but it is,” Stevens said, offering his take on the issue.

Earlier this month, a public meeting was held concerning the city’s Airport Property Scenario Planning Project. At the standing-room only event, project consultants including Gruen Gruen + Associates, The Land Studio and SGM Engineering, presented the public with three potential future scenarios for the Glenwood Springs Airport property.

Those scenarios include “expanded aviation,” a “mixed-use village” development with a helicopter landing pad, or full redevelopment into a “residential village” with no aviation services.

The continued aviation scenario proposed the idea of expanded and modest enhancements to the airport, which now accommodates several small aircraft owned by private pilots, mechanical services and a fueling station. Valley View’s contract air ambulance, Classic Air Medical, also uses the facility for fueling and maintenance of its Glenwood-based helicopter.

The mixed-use village would convert the airport property to non-aviation uses with the exception of the helipad and fueling station, while the residential village suggested converting the airport property entirely into new housing.

“The Airport Property Scenario Planning Project is only approximately halfway complete,” said Glenwood Springs City Manager Debra Figueroa.

According to Figueroa, the total budgeted amount for the project is $175,000, with half of the project cost, $87,500, being funded by a Colorado Department of Local Affairs Energy and Mineral Impact Assistance Program Grant.

“The consultant team has satisfactorily completed various tasks outlined in the scope of work to date … the information collected through the project is intended to provide City Council and the public with information for any future discussions regarding the airport,” Figueroa said.

Dr. Ben Peery, who serves as a physician in Valley View’s Emergency Room, understands perhaps better than anyone the critical services the Glenwood Springs Airport provides to patients in critical, life-or-death situations.

In particular, for patients suffering from a stroke, “minutes equal brain tissue.”

“A lot of this is extremely time sensitive, and the longer that we delay care, … those patients are suffering minute by minute,” Peery said. “If we had to send a helicopter from Rifle to here, those are minutes that we don’t have.”

In addition to patients suffering from strokes, heart attacks or other emergency complications, Peery recalled instances where, had it not been for Classic Air Medical and the Glenwood Springs Airport, children’s lives could have been lost.

“We have had a couple circumstances related to kids who were in severe, respiratory distress and on ventilators who needed to be transported out,” Peery said.

“I can think of at least two or three cases where, not having air transport in those cases would have probably caused serious harm. … Those kids wouldn’t have made it if we couldn’t have gotten them to Children’s Hospital, no question,” he said.

Driving the airport debate, in part, is the growing need for more housing options for the area’s workforce and families. With very little flat, developable land in the Glenwood Springs area, the airport site has been eyed for years as a place for potential redevelopment.

For the city’s part, the airport land also is critical to the proposed South Bridge project. Current engineering plans for that project call for a runway underpass leading to a new bridge over the Roaring Fork River and connecting to state Highway 82, should the airport remain.

Without the airport, the pricetag for that project could be somewhat less, project planners have pointed out.