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Election should place hospital on new footing

Aspen Times writer

We were pleased this week to see two respected local doctors elected to the Aspen Valley Hospital board of directors. The election of Greg Balko and Barry Mink will hopefully keep the board focused on community medical care, which is the essence of AVH.

For the last few months, AVH has been through a painful retrenchment that included the firing of some 34 employees. This period has won existing board members some fans and some enemies. John Sarpa, John Jellinek and fellow board member Elaine Gerson were handed an exceedingly difficult job in 2002, and gradually they have tried to right a ship that was listing desperately.

Whatever one thinks about the current board’s performance, the addition of Balko and Mink is a positive development for the hospital.

Interpreting election results is a dangerous game, but it seems clear that hospital district voters spoke clearly on Tuesday for staff and community involvement. By choosing an AVH emergency room doctor and a longtime local M.D. to represent them, voters have stated that Aspen Valley Hospital is their hospital and that they want it run by people they trust.

We hope Balko and Mink will make good on their promises to consult the community and the staff on major decisions – that has, after all, been a problem in the past – and to restore a community trust and pride in one our most vital institutions.

Having a pair of practicing local doctors will also bring to the board a healthy balance between business and medical expertise. After all, high-quality patient care has long been AVH’s stock in trade.

If there is one thing about the current board’s direction that gives us pause, it’s the plan to affiliate with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. This move could help AVH’s bottom line by drawing outside patients to Aspen for orthopedic procedures, but it may erode or even destroy AVH’s community orientation. The label “destination hospital” sounds suspiciously like tourism-industry jargon, and we already know what Aspen’s conversion to a “destination resort” has meant for our sense of community. The very notion of “branding” our local hospital with the name, logo, profile or personality of a major East Coast institution, however successful, chafes many Aspenites.

In this context, skepticism is wisdom, and both Balko and Mink have expressed reservations about the HSS affiliation.

We must never forget that Aspen Valley Hospital is first and foremost a community jewel that must not be “sold” or allowed to tarnish any further. We believe Balko and Mink will keep this vital interest in mind.


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