Spine surgeons eager to join in Community effort

Dr. Kirk Clifford
Dr. Kirk Clifford
Dr. James Gebhard
Dr. James Gebhard
Chris Thomas
Chris Thomas

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Dr. Kirk Clifford looks forward to what joining Community Hospital in Grand Junction will add to his orthopedic spine surgery practice as well as what the arrangement will take away.

The hospital has added to the practice sophisticated imaging technology that assists surgeons in operating more precisely, Clifford said. The hospital is the only facility in Western Colorado to use the Brainlab spinal navigation equipment.

At the same time, the hospital will take away what Clifford said has become the increasingly onerous tasks associated with regulations and record keeping.

Clifford and Dr. James Gebhard have announced plans to join Community Hospital July 1 to start Western Colorado Spine and bring an orthopedic spine surgery program to the hospital.

The addition adds to the surgical specialties and other services offered at the hospital as well as the number of physicians that have joined the hospital as employees, said Chris Thomas, president and chief executive officer.

The staff of Western Orthopedics & Sports Medicine also will join the hospital effective July 1.

Thomas said the trend will improve the quality of health care and, in creating more competition in the Grand Valley, lower costs. “Competition is good. We want to make sure the Grand Valley has choices.”

Clifford will bring more than 17 years of experience in orthopedic spine surgery to Western Colorado Spine. Gebhard has practiced orthopedic surgery for 25 years.

Clifford said the practice will offer a range of services from pain injections and minimally invasive procedures to complex surgeries.

The rapidly changing health care industry has prompted a growing proportion of orthopedic surgeons as well as other physicians who in the past have operated independent practices to go to work for hospitals, Clifford said. The move enables them to take advantage of the shared technology and support services as well as the economies of scales hospitals offer.

Clifford said he and Gephard were encouraged to make a similar move because of the success an oncology practice has enjoyed after joining Community Hospital.

Thomas said success breeds success in the ability of the hospital to add additional service lines and recruit more physicians and other health care professionals.

In addition to the orthopedic and oncology practices, Thomas said the hospital has added over the past five years ears, nose and throat; family medicine;  internal medicine; obstetrics and gynecology; midwife; plastic surgery; podiatry;  and pulmonary practices.

A total of 80 physicians and mid-level health care professionals now work for the hospital, 60 of whom have joined the hospital over the past five years, he said.

In addition to a new hospital that opened in 2016, Community Hospital now has seven other health care facilities spread across the Grand Valley.

The overall volume of health care services Community Hospital provides has increased about 10 percent a year, Thomas said, but jumped with the addition of the oncology practice.

There’s still ample room for more growth, though, Thomas said. The capacity of the new hospital could more than double from 44 beds to 108 beds without changing the flow of the facility.

For now, Thomas said he excited about adding the spine surgery and orthopedic and sports medicine practices to the mix. “We really have the full spectrum now of orthopedic care at Community Hospital.”

Clifford expressed a similar sentiment. “It’s pretty exciting to do.”