60 years of Barton Health: Barton establishes orthopedics prestige in 1970s

Barton Staff
John Schaffer of Carmel recurperates at Barton Hospital after a skiing accident — one of many reported on the slopes that season.

60 years ago, the community’s dream of a local, Tahoe-based hospital became reality. Barton Health has assembled a collection of articles to commemorate 60 years of quality and compassionate health care for our community and its visitors. Beginning with the 1950s, an article outlining the events of each decade will be published monthly, culminating with the 2020s on Barton’s official 60th anniversary in November. Follow along this historical journey each month and learn more at

By the mid-60s, life in Lake Tahoe was changing — the city of South Lake Tahoe incorporated, and a housing boom followed — the population grew to approximately 7,500 year-round residents. In the first 10 years after the Barton Memorial Hospital opened in 1963, admissions grew by 54% — from 1,698 to 3,702 patients. The same period showed a 36% emergency room increase — from 5,785 annual visits to nearly 9,000.  

As the ski industry expanded, the region’s orthopedic services also grew in reputation and prestige. In 1970, orthopedic surgeon Dr. Paul Fry, II, was joined by Richard Steadman, MD and together, the partners laid the groundwork for Tahoe’s orthopedic prowess.

Soon after arriving in Tahoe, Dr. Steadman was asked to participate in the medical care of the U.S. Ski Team, earning the Chief Physician spot for the team in 1976. 

In the 1970s, emergency rooms are not set up to allow for much privacy, and multiple patients are treatedside by side.

The success achieved in treating serious injuries of these great skiers enhanced Dr. Steadman’s reputation, and athletes from Europe and around the United States began to come to his Tahoe orthopedic clinic for care. Ski Team member Cindy Nelson, was an early patient who, after suffering a serious ankle fracture in Europe, came to Tahoe for surgery. 

In 1979, Phil Mahre, the best hope for an Olympic medal in the 1980 Winter Olympics, had a potentially career ending ankle injury in Lake Placid, New York, at a pre-Olympic race. He was flown to Lake Tahoe to have surgery at Barton Memorial Hospital. His complex ankle fracture required seven screws, and the media scrutiny was intense. The first eight weeks of his recovery were filmed by an independent film crew at Lake Tahoe and shown during the Olympic TV coverage in 1980. Mahre would go on to win a silver medal that year, and he secured a gold medal four years later in Sarajevo.

As the number of high profile patients increased, athletes from other sports began to come to Tahoe to be treated. These included Emil Boures, an offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers football team, and Dan Marino, quarterback for the Miami Dolphins, among others.

Paul J. Fry II, MD (Papa Fry).

Today, Lake Tahoe continues to offer stellar orthopedic care. Through its partnership with the Lake Tahoe Sports Medicine Fellowship, Barton continues to provide a world-class learning institute for orthopedics, utilizing leading procedures and new surgical technology, such as robotic-assisted joint replacement surgery with Mako SmartRobotics, to help their patients get the most out of life. 

To learn more about orthopedic services at Barton Health, call 530-543-5554 or visit

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