Outstanding Orthopedics: How Barton Health has grown into the powerhouse that it is today
Since opening Barton Memorial Hospital in November 1963, Barton Health has continued to grow to meet the healthcare needs of the Lake Tahoe community and beyond, building a reputation for innovation along the way.
Over the last 55 years, the health hub has expanded from an undeveloped 6-acre lot to a state-of-the-art hospital with a network of departments, clinics and programs providing quality care in trauma, surgery, acute and chronic illness, family medicine, orthopedics and rehabilitation.
Serving an active outdoors community in the Sierra Nevada, Barton Health has received national recognition for its pioneering orthopedic and rehabilitation program, which has continued to expand and develop since launching in 1965.
The latest addition, the Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness, is the realization of a shared dream for the future of orthopedics — and a reminder that progress takes time and the right team.
ATTRACTING ELITE ATHLETES
As snow sports enthusiasts flocked to Lake Tahoe following the 1960 Olympics at Squaw Valley, the need for proper orthopedic healthcare dramatically increased. One such enthusiast was Dr. Paul Joseph Fry II, an orthopedic surgeon, who, after years of visiting the region, decided to move his family to the South Shore.
In 1964, he opened Tahoe Fracture Clinic, and as his practice rapidly grew, so did his team. In 1970, Dr. Richard Steadman joined Fry, with Randy Watson, Edward Tapper and Keith Swanson joining in 1973.
“Dr. Paul Fry II really got us going. He was the true patriarch of orthopedics in Tahoe, and you’ll see that if you look at all of the different doctors he brought in,” said Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness Administrative Director Chris Proctor.
In the 1960s, Fry and Tahoe Fracture played a definitive role in developing the physician medical program for the U.S. Ski Team. In 1976, Steadman became the chief physician, and soon, elite athletes from all over the world came to Barton for treatment. Their support gave Barton international acclaim for getting athletes back to their optimal level of performance.
As word got out about Barton’s successful orthopedic and rehabilitation program, National Football League players and professional track and field athletes started coming to Lake Tahoe to heal, too.
Dr. Terrence Orr came to Lake Tahoe from Chicago in 1986 for a six-month sports medicine fellowship — and he never left.
“I enjoy working with the skiers because they are at the pinnacle of athleticism. They take it to a higher level and are at the top of what they do,” said Orr, who worked with the U.S. Ski Team. “And snow sports is a lot of the reason why many of us move here, right?”
From the start, Orr involved physical therapists before and after surgery for his orthopedic patients as much as possible.
“Early on, we brought in an operating nurse and an athletic trainer to work with me during and after the procedures. Every person is unique and there is a lot going on inside the joint,” explained Orr. “Fifty percent of orthopedics is surgery and 50 percent is physical therapy. Physical therapy is a huge part in that consistency of care, and we need to keep the lines of communication wide open.”
It was this desire for continued, seamless care between practitioners that had the doctors thinking about the benefits of a centralized facility dedicated to orthopedics and rehabilitation.
NEW STANDARD OF CARE
Chris Proctor came to Lake Tahoe in 1997, and while working for a private physical therapy practice, was invited by Orr to work with the U.S. Ski and Snowboard teams. Proctor traveled with some of the athletes, treating them on the road, before joining the Tahoe Fracture Clinic in 2003.
“It may be the standard of care now, but back then it was innovative to treat the whole body and work as a team to do it. Patients liked that everyone was on the same page, and we really had no clue that it was a different approach to what other hospitals were doing.” Proctor said.
It became especially apparent to Proctor how innovative Barton’s level of care was when, in the early 2000s, the wife of a top executive at Vail Resorts got hurt skiing at Heavenly and went straight to Barton’s orthopedic team.
“She loved that everyone was on the same page — that we coordinated all of the care from start to finish and didn’t send her off to the next provider and wipe our hands clean,” said Proctor.
Proctor recalls numerous conversations with Orr over the years about the desire for a dedicated orthopedic center — a place that would allow the doctors and practitioners to expand this sort of continuum of care to a bigger scale.
“We spent a lot of time going through the process of what the building would look like and what services we would offer, but it would’ve just been too expensive,” he said.
MOVING INTO THE MODERN ERA
In 2010, Tahoe Center for Orthopedics was formed and brought orthopedic services under one umbrella to create a cohesive team with consistent standards of care.
The Center for Orthopedics & Wellness has allowed Barton to bring the team under one roof, resulting in stronger integration and increased standard of care, while providing the same opportunity for its existing offices to utilize these same practices.
In 2014, thanks to a large donation from Lisa Maloff in honor of her late husband Robert, Barton Health was one step closer to building the orthopedic facility for which it had been hoping.
“Looking back to when we really started taking about this 14 years ago, it was ambitious,” said Proctor. “To receive notice that a community member is offering $10 million to see through your dream, it’s overwhelming.”
Now celebrating its first anniversary, the 26,000-square-foot Barton Center for Orthopedics & Wellness stands as an example of the future of medicine. In one building, physical therapists consult with orthopedic surgeons before sending their patient to the state-of-the-art rehabilitation pool followed by an acupuncture session if needed.
Spine specialists refer patients to on-site nutritionists or pain management experts. Athletes take the next step after rehabilitation and begin training through the Olympic-caliber sports performance program housed in the Center.
“At the end of the day we need to get our patients back to where they were previously or better,” said Orr. “We need the complete picture on how to take care of people.”