Guest Column: Public health director gets a healthy impression of Rangely

By Julie Drake
Special to the Herald Times
RBC | When I was in high school we dreaded the bus ride to Rangely for sports. It was a long ride from South Routt County (Soroco) where I was

Julie Drake
from. Unfortunately, my peers and I complained so much it tainted my opinion of Rangely.
Once hired by Rio Blanco County I decided I needed to give Rangely a second chance. So I recently went to Rangely to look around. The tip-up chair backs in the beautiful high school gym were almost enough to change my mind. Then I found the rec center with its nice pool, weight room, racquetball courts, spin class room, game room and community room. I forgot Rangely has a college and a quick drive up on the hill proved well worth it. Driving by the assisted living facility, nice library and new hospital rounded out my town cruise.
This trip was mostly focused on health and since rehab is my clinical background I stopped in and met rehab director Luke Geer and his team at the hospital. What a wealth of current, research driven, exceptional skills and rehab knowledge. Many hospitals struggle to attract highly skilled, passionate therapists and Rangely has two with plans for another. Rangely’s therapists could compete with anyone you would find in Grand Junction. I toured the rest of the hospital and had a great visit with Sharma Vaughn, the chief nursing officer. Once again, I was impressed with the passion and knowledge.
Since 2010, 81 rural hospitals have closed in the United States. According to new research from the University of North Carolina, another 673 rural hospitals are vulnerable to shutting down. It is becoming more and more rare to find an independent rural community hospital. Yampa Valley Regional Medical Center in Steamboat, which used to be seen as a bright example of a successful independent non-tax supported rural hospital, just aligned with UC health. The last time I was there, it had already started to feel more corporate than community.
I worry about our rural independent hospitals and their ability to stay financially viable. I sure hope Rangely will keep their hospital for perpetuity. They’ve got the facility, great community partners, community amenities and highly skilled staff. I just hope residents of Western Rio Blanco County will contribute to making it better, bragging it up and utilizing the excellent local community healthcare.
Keep up the great work Rangely.

Julie Drake is the Public Health Director for Rio Blanco County.