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Skiers, boarders find relief at Barton’s Kirkwood Clinic

The countdown at Kirkwood for its season opener Saturday involved more than the lift operators and concessionaires.

Charge Nurse Julie Molin went through her eight-point checklist at 9 a.m., trying to beat the clock against whatever human frailty, physical injury or medical abnormality she might see from the slopes in her third year at Barton’s Kirkwood Clinic.

What are the most common conditions?



“With skiers, it’s knees. With snowboarders, we see shoulders and wrists,” Molin said, while reviewing the defibrillator, the glucose meter for diabetics, and the refrigerator’s temperature for medication storage.

But Molin, Emergency Medical Technician Tracy Murray, Operating Room Registered Nurse Nicole Sheridan and the doctor of the day out of the eight who rotate the assignment have pretty much seen it all – from head traumas and chest pains to shortness of breath and high altitude headaches.




The latter is the reason why anti-inflammatories, along with Band-Aids, knee splints and crutches must be constantly restocked. The clinic, which is licensed as an urgent-care center not an emergency room, even maintains an entire closet of crutches. But they walk away fast.

By midday, the ski resort’s three-bed clinic had filled up fast with walk-in and non-ambulatory patients. Some looked nauseated and others held ice packs made from snow in Ziploc bags on ailing joints such as knees and fingers.

Kirkwood’s Basic Life Support team pulled up its volunteer fire department ambulance in back of the clinic to transport a man wearing a spinal collar.

Also on hand, the advanced cardiac life support team run by American Legion Ambulance out of Pioneer may read electrocardiograms, perform intubations, give IVs and use the life-sustaining defibrillator.

For the dozen patients it averages on weekdays and up to 30 on weekends, the clinic represents the first line of defense in patient stabilization, the ruling out of more serious conditions and especially pain management.

“That’s really why the clinic is here,” Sheridan said. “Pain control is a big part of our job.”

And since the nearest hospital is 33 miles away, the clinic’s medical team helps a variety of patients as wide-ranging as the first-responder specialists it taps into. They range from 6-week-old babies to 90-year-old seniors.

“We have to be able to provide full resuscitation procedures,” Molin said, glancing at the shelves. From the looks of the supply-stuffed three rooms, the staff excels in spatial relations.

The usual scenario, Kirkwood Ski Patrol administers first aid and “finds out what happened,” Molin indicated.

From whatever assessment the clinical team makes based on X-rays and other screening tools, the patient may be transported by air or ground, if the case comes to that. Many go to Barton Memorial Hospital, Washoe Medical Center or University of California, Davis Medical Center.

A helipad which brings in LifeFlight, CareFlite and CALSTAR helicopters, is located about a football field away from the clinic and is open seven days a week from 8:30 a.m. until the last sweep of the mountain.

Opening on Thanksgiving Day for weekend visits, Barton’s medical clinic at Sierra-at-Tahoe is prepping for its second season today.

The clinic, located in a 34-foot motor home complete with an X-ray unit of its own, gives the nurse and the Barton emergency room doctor, who rotates on the assignment, a cozy environment. But surprisingly, there’s plenty of room to move around in, Emergency Department Manager Mary Flores said.

For the most part, the South Shore ski area clinic ends up seeing the same types of conditions as Kirkwood, with its fair share of “nasty fractures,” Flores said, who is also a nurse. The clinic cared for 28 patients in a single day last year.

Like its sister clinic at Kirkwood, Sierra’s unit is the first line of defense for the patient.

“It keeps people from coming to the hospital,” she said, adding the clinic has received many letters and comments from thankful parents, relatives and loved ones in its first year of operation.

And the education doesn’t end with patient care. The Sierra-at-Tahoe Ski Patrol, which is in constant radio contact with the clinic, regroups after its sweeps for a debriefing with the staff at the end of each day.


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