More Dogs on Main Street
September 18, 2009
For the first time in better than 40 years, since the old Miners Hospital closed, we have a real hospital with an emergency room and everything. This isn’t some drive-up trauma center, it’s the real deal. They’ve got some magnetic X-ray thing out there that is so powerful the sheep grazing across the street all vibrate.
It’s been a long process getting there, almost 10 years in the planning. But now it’s open and ready for business. Cosmetic surgeons are standing by to fix your sagging eyelids. I was out of town and missed the grand opening, so I don’t know if there were dignitaries there to pitch the first breast implant, or if a bottle of champagne was broken over an artificial knee. They’ve been open almost a week now, and I’m sure that there have already been some knees rebuilt.
The hospital is part of the Intermountain Healthcare system. They received a shout out in Obama’s health-care speech to Congress (of course Kanye West also got a presidential shout out later in the week). As health-care monopolies go, IHC is supposed to be one of the best. A few years back, I had my appendix taken out at the IHC hospital in Heber. It was, on the whole, a very pleasant experience. They are not part of my insurance company’s system and it took a couple of painful hours waiting for my appendix to burst before I could get authorization from Blue Cross. Blue Cross and IHC spent the next three years quarrelling over $27 on the bill, but from a medical standpoint it was as nice an appendectomy as you could ask for. If I ever have to have my appendix removed again, I won’t hesitate to back go to an IHC hospital.
One of the great arguments for building the hospital in Park City was the fear of I-80 being closed by a storm and the helicopters not able to fly. That used to happen several times each winter. Since the hospital planning started, the I-80 scenario has kind of changed. UDOT catches the snow on the way down, and the canyon is seldom closed due to weather. Instead, it is now closed a couple of times a month, year round, because people drive like idiots and there are accidents all the time that shut it down. If you are about to go into labor, or need an emergency tummy tuck, it’s a real comfort to know that the only traffic problems you will face will be on Highway 248.
The hospital is a nice-looking building, and the inside has a pleasant ski-lodge ambience. On their web site, they talk about the views from their "guest rooms" as if you were staying in a nice little resort hotel where room service just happens to stick needles in you. It’s the kind of place where the rich and famous can sneak off and have a quality knee replacement or a little cosmetic work done in a tranquil and private setting. It may become a kind of celebrity hospital. While the rest of the country is up in arms about socialized medicine, we will be able to specialize in socialite medicine.
I’ve frankly been skeptical about the need for the hospital since the beginning. The quality of medical care in Salt Lake, between the IHC system and the University of Utah Medical Center, is so good that it’s hard to imagine why you would opt for serious treatment here instead of dealing with the half-hour drive. I guess that any emergency room is better than one that is a half hour away if the blood is spurting, but the protocol still has to be stabilizing patients here and shipping them to the valley for anything serious. It’s just impossible on this scale to have a dozen different specialists on duty all the time. When you show up with a compound fracture, you don’t want to talk to the dermatologist.
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The long absence of a local hospital is a reflection of the odd demographics of a ski town, where the population tends to be younger and healthier than the general population. But now that a generation of us have put down roots and decided to stay for the duration, there’s a need for expanded medical care. The conversation about the need for options for our elderly parents (or our elderly selves) is another indication of a shift. It’s probably been 25 years since the local mortuary closed. Is that the next revival?
It still seems way ahead of the market. Vacant hospital rooms still have to be paid for, and added to everybody’s cost. But people smarter than me decided that it could be economically viable, so there it is. So get sick already they’ve got a mortgage to pay.
Tom Clyde served as Park City attorney in the 1980s and is the author of "More Dogs On Main Street." He has been a columnist at The Park Record for more than 20 years.