June 23, 2024
Cook: Building the world’s most modern mountain health care system

This January marked my fifth year as president and chief executive officer of Vail Health. As I reflect, I’m truly amazed and inspired by what we have accomplished as an organization and a community during this time.

Guided by our strategic pillars of affordability, accessibility, population health and sustainability, I’m proud to see our board of directors, leaders, health care providers, and employees helping Vail Health achieve its mission of “elevating health across our mountain communities.” Together, we are transforming the model of health care from “sick care” to “population health,” preventing illness and injury through a holistic approach to wellness bringing together physical and behavioral health.

In these last five years, we have integrated primary and specialty care into Vail Health’s system with the addition of Colorado Mountain Medical. We completed a multi-year, multi-million-dollar hospital renovation to provide our community with a state-of-the-art hospital that will serve the community for decades and expanded operations in neighboring counties to provide care closer to home for patients who were traveling from Summit County and the Roaring Fork Valley to Vail for care.

I am also very proud of how together Vail Health, other health care providers, Eagle County, other local municipal governments, the Vail Valley Foundation, our business community, our schools, our state and all of us as members of this amazing valley leaned in to manage a world-wide pandemic that changed our lives so dramatically.

I am most proud, however, of how our community came together to begin to tackle the behavioral health crisis. While it might seem that COVID-19 was the health crisis of our lifetimes, it is behavioral health in my opinion. So many of us have been touched directly and indirectly by this disease and so many have given so generously of their time, talent and resources to help us develop a comprehensive plan to address it.

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As part of that plan, Vail Health committed more than $200 million to behavioral health, creating a new behavioral health service line, providing Olivia’s Fund — a financial assistance program, launching the Behavioral Health Innovation Center, creating the Mountain Strong Employee Assistance Program for local organizations, and opening both an outpatient behavioral health clinic (Wiegers Mental Health Clinic) and a 28-bed in-patient behavioral health hospital (Precourt Healing Center, opening in 2025).

In addition to the Wiegers Mental Health Clinic and the Precourt Healing Center, the Edwards Community Health Campus also provides space for The Community Market, My Future Pathways, Your Hope Center, and Vail Health Behavioral Health providers. We are also expanding behavioral health services to enable us to take care of our colleagues, friends and family from our neighboring communities. Every action moves us closer to our goal of one day spending as much time, effort and energy on behavioral health as we do on our physical health.

A true testament to the generosity of our community, the Vail Health Foundation campaign, It Takes a Valley: Transforming Behavioral Health, has raised $88.4 million of its $100 million goal as of January 2024. This includes $22.1 million raised in collaboration with our community fundraising partners.

We have fostered strong partnerships with Eagle County School District, Colorado Mountain College and Colorado Mesa University that are building pathways for the next generation to enter the health care field, including through the CareerWise youth apprenticeship program. We’ve also expanded our bilingual services and offer free Medicaid enrollment services.

Additionally, Vail Health has expanded its housing for employees by 137 percent, partnering with BGV Edwards on the largest private, deed-restricted and free-market employee housing joint venture project in Eagle County. The first tenants move into their units this February. 

Vail Health is the world’s most modern mountain health care system. I feel confident in this bold statement. We are the premiere destination for orthopedics, cancer care and now behavioral health. We are leading the research field through our support of the Steadman Philippon Research Institute and by launching the Vail Health Behavioral Health Innovation Center, which will help set the standard for how to utilize novel treatments like hot/cold therapy and psilocybin to treat depression.

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One of the biggest benefits of being a nonprofit, independent health system is that our priority is keeping great care local and, guided by an extraordinary volunteer board of directors, being able to make decisions locally in this valley. It also allows us to reinvest more than $20 million annually back into the community we serve through charity care and subsidized health services that do not make money, MIRA partnership, Howard Head Sports Medicine’s SafeHealth program, in-school programs, medical research, and supporting other local nonprofits, resulting in $1.5 billion of economic impact, per the CU Leeds School of Business, from 2018-2022.

I am proud of everything our teams have accomplished during the past five years and would like to thank our incredible staff, providers, board of directors, and community partners for making it all possible. I look forward to what’s coming next and hope you will join me at the annual State of Vail Health event on Feb. 20, 2024, at 4 p.m. via Zoom to learn more. You can RSVP to [email protected].

Will Cook is the president and CEO of Vail Health.

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