Mountain Medicine: Giving Birth to Babies & Business
Last week, Leadville Today introduced the reader to Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger, Leadville’s first female physician. Today, in the second of a three-part series, it’s about the business that she and husband Jeff Foley began: Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP), which celebrates 10 years in 2016.
by Brennan Ruegg, Leadville Today Contributor
The sun rises over the Rocky Mountains ushering in a new day, and sometimes, new lives into the hands of its people. In the Pioneer days traditional birth in a remote community like Leadville implied little more than gripping a cross and biting down on the belt. Mothers and children often perished in childbirth , much like the businesses and ideologies they brought with them. Others not only survived, but thrived.
A business is born in much the same way as a child. It’s held and carried in gestation, an increasing weight, requiring its own share of nourishment. And while it grows, its true shape and size are hidden from view. Until the time comes, often unexpectedly, when it springs forth with new life.
Dr Lisa, as she is affectionately known to her patients, broke ground for Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) in 2005. She and her husband Jeff Foley, (or “president and vice president,” in her words), were pregnant with her first child Yakov.
In 2006, both Yaki and the business were born. RMPF had opened its doors “on a penny and a prayer,” says Zwerdlinger.
“We didn’t have a money tree growing out back. We really hawked everything we owned, because we simply believed in Leadville and in quality healthcare. We wanted this place to be a family practice,” Dr. Zwerdlinger explained.
For the first few years while raising her newborn son, Dr. Lisa was the only practitioner at RMFP. But when she became pregnant with her second child, Layah, she knew she wouldn’t be able to maintain the same level of service doing it all herself. So in 2007, two more members were added to the family: with the arrival of daughter Layah, came Amy King P.A.C., joining the practice as physician assistant.
Since then, RMFP has grown substantially, not only offering a varety of local services, but continuing to sustain positive working relationships with healthcare providers in neighboring communities, including Centura Health.
RMFP offers wraparound care, a term describing a collaborative effort which develops an individualized plan for a patient. In fewer words, Dr. Lisa and her team offer the advantage of relationships they have formed in Leadville, and beyond.
Molly Monahan, acupuncturist and massage therapist, Sally Ayote, dietician and nutritionist, Kevin King, chiropractor and husband to Amy King, and a mental health physician from SolVista Health all spend one day of their week at the Leadvilel medical clinic. Understanding that traditional, by-the-book medicine–Dr. Lisa’s forte–is not for everyone, these alternative practitioners attack a patient’s health issues from all sides to maximize their chance of success. And most private health insurance policies cover all of their services.
“We aren’t trying to market these things; there is evidence that these modalities work,” explained Dr. Lisa. But, she adds, “I don’t have all the answers!”
But if she doesn’t have the answer, she probably knows someone who does. Dr. Lisa has not only fostered relationships with her aforementioned colleagues, but has also been delivering Leadville’s babies at St. Anthony Hospital in Frisco, for years. Since the local hospital made the choice to no longer offer the option of giving birth in Leadville, Zwerdlinger continues to bring in the next generation of Leadvillites, albeit in a neighboring county.
And if defined, long-term partnerships are any indication, Dr. Lisa is consistently the physicians that private and public entities in Lake County look to for leadership. For years, Zwerdlinger has been the doctor selected to be the occupational health physician for Climax Molybdenum Mine, Lake County, the City of Leadville, High Mountain Institute, Colorado Mountain College, Lake County School District, and several rafting companies. And don’t forget Centura Health, the healthcare provider many in the Rocky Mountains look to for medical services; Dr. Lisa has been part of that team for years. With an ever growing circle of partners and relationships, Zwerdlinger and the RMFP team continue to prove that they are in it for the long haul.
RMFP serves all demographics: young, old, insured and uninsured. Dr. Lisa surveyed household income within the county and created a sliding-scale mirrored after that of the Public Health Department to offer affordable visits and care to low-income and uninsured patients.
“A regular office visit, if you were wealthy and to pay cash would cost around $170. I’ll give it to someone who really needs it for $40. And I do that because I care. If I can help, I will help,” Zwerdlinger said.
Yakov and Layah are now eleven and 9 years old respectively; RMFP is ten, with new members to the team constantly being adopted into the family.
When it comes to healthcare in a small town, Dr. Lisa and RMFP hit all the marks: medical integrity is in tact and working partnerships are in place. It’s truly a one-stop-shop to set the people of Leadville on the road to good health.
By the way, what does Dr. Lisa think is the most pressing health concern facing Leadville today? The answer may, or may not, surprise you. Look for it next week as Leadville Today takes a look into the future: the future of RMFP, of rural medicine and of healthcare in Colorado. Stay Tuned!
Brennan Ruegg is from Akron, OH, once known as The Rubber Capital of the World.