(Editor's Note: This story was written by Renee Rockford for the annual report of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. It is being printed in The Flume with her permission.)
By mid-March, Kenosha Pass, which separates Fairplay to the west and Bailey to the east, had already been closed 18 times this winter, and Colorado's snowiest month was only half over.
With the five or six feet of snow at her home, Fairplay resident Cara Doyle said she had to duck to keep from hitting her head on the roof of her cabin as she entered the front door. "People fall in love with the mountains, but one of the things people don't consider when they move here is access to [health] care," said Doyle, who is marketing and development coordinator for Fairplay's new health clinic.
Health care has been on a lot of people's minds in Fairplay, because until recently, there hasn't been a doctor in the area since the 1970s, and until now, there hasn't been a full-service health clinic in all of Park County.
However, the new South Park Medical Center will soon open its doors to provide full health services to the community, funded in part by the Caring for Colorado Foundation.
The opening is tentatively set for mid-June at the new location at 525 Hathaway St., and the open house is tentatively scheduled for June 20, said Dr. Katherine Fitting. She and two nurse practitioners will be operating out of the facility as the South Park Medical Group.
Nonprofit Rocky Mountain Rural Health raised the money and got the grants to build the facility and owns the building, while the Town of Fairplay owns the land under the building, Fitting said.
Rocky Mountain Rural Health will also conduct education and outreach programs for the surrounding community.
The medical center project appears to have materialized through several factors coming together: The relocation of Fitting to the area, the availability of a permanent site, charitable support from foundations statewide, and tremendous support and involvement of the community.
As Doyle put it in the grant application to the foundation, "There is no stopping this incredibly dedicated group."
Park County is growing, and, according to the state demographer's office, it will keep growing.
Through the year 2010, it is expected to grow at a rate of 7.9 percent per year. Growth is expected to accelerate to 8.1 percent annually from 2010 to 2015, and then continue growing at a far faster rate than the rest of the state through 2030.
Even without those aggressive projections, the new clinic in Fairplay is expected to see 6,000 patients per year, including under-insured and uninsured patients.
Fitting is key to services
Key to the delivery of all those health services is Fitting. For a long time, Fitting and her husband, Dale, owned a home and businesses in Fairplay, but it wasn't until they became full-time residents that things began to change.
After practicing for 17 years in Denver, Fitting said, she was ready to get "back to the roots of medicine."
"I was missing that personal physician-patient relationship," she said.
She knew there was a need to fill in the Park County community, and that she could fill it. As an internist, with a specialty in nephrology (dealing with kidney function and disease), she is trained to provide comprehensive health care for adults. Her special interests include disease management of chronic kidney disease, diabetes mellitus, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease risk factors; complex hypertension; systemic lupus erythematosis; pediatric nephrology; metabolic bone disease and medical management of high-risk obstetrical patients.
"Not only is she providing care to Park County," said Doyle, "but people are driving from some distance to be seen by her because of her specialty work."
When not seeing patients in a makeshift clinic, she has been devoted to moving the new clinic construction forward. Problems at the current location include a roof that leaks and electricity that goes out, said Fitting.
Her reaction to getting close to having a new facility?
"We are beside ourselves with joy," she said.
Fitting has rolled up her sleeves in helping make that a reality.
"She sells fudge to raise money and hauls out the garbage. She'll come in wearing her blue jeans, with her hair pulled back, and you wouldn't know who she is. She and her husband have been incredibly involved donating dollars and time to make this project happen," Doyle said.
The work of the Fittings has been like that of many Fairplay residents. Park County's chief budget and finance administrator Kathy Boyce has been known to wear a pancake costume at the Burro Palooza Pancake Breakfast to benefit the medical center. Locals have held rummage sales, ice cream socials, sold Christmas portraits and held holiday dinners all to raise money for the new clinic.
"Some events only raised $200," said Doyle. "But the fact that we raised this level of money, $600,000, in a town this size has been an amazing feat."
Ultimately, Fitting said, her goal is to have a facility that will attract more physicians to the area.
"I want to be in Fairplay until I croak," she said. "But when I retire, I want to know that we've recruited one or two more physicians here so this community won't ever be without health care."
- Tom Locke contributed to this article