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Grateful for Our Hospital

I would like to take a moment to recognize how grateful I am for the high quality staff we have at our local hospital. It is my privilege to have recently been appointed to the Board of Directors at Holy Cross Hospital, and my time as a medical professional in the community reinforces my belief that having great health care close to home is vital to the welfare of our community.

I want to recognize the incredible work of the staff at the hospital. Over the last few weeks I have been made aware of extraordinary acts of dedication and teamwork exhibited by our staff in response to recent incidents in the community. When you live in a rural community, the time it takes to get access to care can mean the difference between life and death. Travel the western United States and look at rural communities our size, you’ll very rarely find a hospital with the quality and array of services that Holy Cross provides. While the entire organization stepped up to provide care, I wanted to highlight the work of the Emergency department, the surgical team, and two of our surgeons. It’s comforting to know that we have an Emergency department here in Taos that is capable of stabilizing critical patients, and world-class surgeons providing care right here in our small community.

Dr. Michael Darnell is part of our Surgical Services team. After a recent incident, Dr. Darnell was called in to perform emergency life-saving surgery. I’m told he went above and beyond to provide great care. Dr. Darnell was unstoppable under the pressure and he provided surgical care from Noon until 2am. That’s fourteen hours of emergency surgery under great pressure. I wish to thank him personally for being there in a time of need.

The second person I would like to recognize is a new member of our surgical team, Dr. Stephen Slikkers. Dr. Slikkers moved to Taos last month and he was quickly tested by getting an emergency call for surgery within his first days here. Even in the midst of moving with his family to Taos, he immediately jumped in as part of the team. His choice to bring his skills to Taos is a tremendous asset to our community.

Both of these examples are a testament not only to the skills of our surgeons, but the quality and teamwork of the entire Emergency department, the surgical team, and entire staff at Holy Cross. No individual on the team works in isolation and it requires the incredible skills and hard work of everyone involved to provide comprehensive care.

There is a lot of competition when it comes to hiring qualified medical professionals. Pay for medical specialists is incredibly competitive across the country and there is a growing physician, nurse, and technician shortage in America. This makes it even more impressive that these highly qualified professionals choose to provide care in Taos, and even better, make it their home.

I have provided emergency medical care in Taos for over 40 years. When I and my fellow EMT providers send or bring patients to Holy Cross, we are grateful to have such a reliable health care option in our community. We rely on our hospital. I encourage everyone in our community to support and cherish the health care available to us from Holy Cross Hospital.

– Carl Gilmore, Lower Cordillera, Taos

Carl has provided emergency health care services in Taos County for over 40 years and now serves on the board of directors for Holy Cross Medical Center. He submitted this letter as a My Turn to the Taos News the week of thanksgiving, 2022.

How Mill Levy Funds are Being Used to Improve Your Local Hospital

In November of 2020 Taos County voters rallied to renew mill levy support for Holy Cross Hospital. With resounding support, 72% of voters in the 2020 general election approved the renewal of a 1 mill tax to support local health care. Holy Cross Hospital is grateful for the support of the community and thought it would be important to share information on how mill levy tax support is being used to improve your local hospital.

The mill levy that was passed in 2020 goes directly to supporting health care in Taos County and is paid directly to Holy Cross Hospital. From the renewal two years ago through September of 2022, Holy Cross Hospital has received $1,645,130.32 in mill levy tax support. The hospital has prioritized the use of this funding for capital costs. While the hospital shares a list of the entire expenditures on its website, here are a few of the major improvements that have been made over the last two years. 

One of the primary improvements that has been made is the addition of a brand new state of the art CT scanner. Medical equipment is highly specialized, and it should come as no surprise that it’s expensive. The upgraded CT scanner cost close to half a million dollars and the additional construction and install costs are estimated at just under a quarter of a million dollars. The new state-of-the-art CT scanner creates 128 high resolution anatomical images per rotation. This means that when a CT scan is needed, doctors will have much more detailed information to diagnose and treat patients.  The construction and install costs are high for this unit, because the hospital is not removing and replacing the existing machine. The Imaging Department chose to keep the existing equipment running and available during the upgrade as well as for future use. When this project is completed, the hospital will have two working CT scanners, which will provide greater options and support for patients. 

Early this year, the speech and language pathology team worked closely with the Imaging Department to update video fluoroscopy equipment and purchase a specialized swallowing chair called a video fluoroscopy stretcher chair. This chair cost just under twelve thousand dollars and allows the speech and language team to offer specialized swallowing studies. These real-time x-rays allow your health care provider to see what happens in your mouth and throat when you swallow. This test is also called a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) Study and is now available at Holy Cross Hospital.

The IT department was the next priority for funding. Half a million dollars was budgeted for technology related upgrades. These upgrades included general software purchases, computer server and storage improvements, network upgrades, a much needed phone system upgrade, and improvements to the electronic health record system. 

The Plant Operations department spent close to three hundred thousand dollars on general infrastructure improvements. While it wasn’t a large part of their expenses, the most notable of these improvements is easily seen in front of the hospital. The new chain link fence that was installed around the helipad provides additional safety and security when air transport is necessary. The primary upgrade that the Plant Operations department made was replacing the security camera system throughout the hospital. Other expenses included a dust containment system, a new transport vehicle, and machinery for campus improvements. 

These examples are just a snapshot of the improvements that have been made by Holy Cross Hospital using mill levy funding from 2020. There were also some important improvements made during the first round of mill levy funding including unveiling a new state-of-the-art 3D mammography machine, energy saving infrastructure improvements, upgrading surgery equipment, many building repairs and upgrades, and some additional IT upgrades.  You can find an ongoing breakdown of expenditures on the Holy Cross Hospital website at https://holycrossmedicalcenter.org/mill-levy-updates/milly-levy-funded-repairs/

As of September 2020, the hospital has received a little more than a quarter of the mill levy funding that should be collected over the four year life span of the mill levy. The hospital’s finance department has shared a five year improvement plan that includes roughly seventeen million dollars of necessary improvements. Members of the administration are meeting with county and town officials to open a transparent dialogue about how to improve health care in our region.

Family Medicine, From Birth Through All Phases of Life

Holy Cross Women’s Health Institute (WHI) is pleased to welcome Family Physician with Obstetrics (FPOB), Ellen Ouellette, MD. Dr. Ouellette joins WHI’s team of OBGYNs that include Tim Moore, MD; Rameet Singh, MD; and Carol Kiesling, MD. As an FPOB, Dr. Ouellette  brings family medicine services to the broad range of care being offered at WHI, as well as pediatric services at Taos Clinic for Children and Youth. 

In addition to providing birthing services alongside WHI’s team of OBGYNs, Dr. Ouellette  can be the primary care provider for a woman well before pregnancy and the entire family. As an FPOB she can provide care in the delivery room and she can continue to provide care for both mother and child after birth. Families in Taos can look forward to the continuity of care that Dr. Ouellette can provide.

Dr. Ouellette comes to Taos from Spokane, and rural northeastern Washington where she completed a three year rural Family Medicine Residency followed by a year long Family Medicine Obstetrics Fellowship. Prior to her residency and fellowship, Dr. Ouellette graduated from the University of Arizona College of Medicine Rural Health Professions Program with her doctorate of medicine as well as a masters degree in public health.

When asked why she pursued a career in Medicine, Dr. Ouellette responded “Like many physicians, it’s something that I knew I wanted to do from a young age. I like the connection between medicine and social health and that directed me to work with families. Being there for families during a really important time in their life is something that I find very gratifying.”

Alex & Dr. Ellen Ouellette during a recent trip to England.

After spending time in the Pacific Northwest, Ellen and her husband Alex are excited to have the opportunity to work and live in the high desert. Ellen was raised in Arizona and Alex is originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, but moved to Kansas City, MO with his family when he was a child. He attended Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff to become a dietician and his time at both schools introduced him to the Four Corners area. He really loved the climate in Northern New Mexico when he visited and was excited when the opportunity to move to Taos came up. Ellen and Alex moved to Taos with their two large rescue dogs, Bonnie and Avery. They are both excited to join the Taos community and have access to all that Taos has to offer. 

“You really get to know people in small towns and it’s really special to get to provide care and be part of people’s lives in that way. What is great about Taos is that you have a small community, but you have a lot of great restaurants, a strong culture, access to the outdoors, and an art scene that you don’t get in many small towns.”

While family medicine is a broad medical field, Dr. Ouellette specializes in women’s primary care, obstetrics, behavioral health, has experience treating Hepatitis-C, and is proficient in medical and conversational spanish. When asked about a professional highlight, Dr. Ouellette said “In the Northwest, not many practitioners spoke Spanish. I had a Spanish speaking patient that had a really early preterm delivery, but my ability to converse with her in her own language helped me connect with the patient and provide comfort and care during a scary experience.” During her final year of medical school, Ellen spent a six week rotation working in Ecuador so that she could get a full immersion experience in Spanish. Her goal has always been to bring her wide range of skills to a rural community.

Dr. Ellen Ouellette is excited to join the team at Holy Cross Medical Center. She will be splitting her time between the Womens’ Health Institute and Taos Clinic for Children and Youth. She is excited to meet you and your family. 

You can learn more by calling Women’s Health Institute at: (575) 737-3415.

Merril Tydings Receives Unsung Hero Award

Please join us in congratulating Merril Tydings, House Shift Coordinator at Holy Cross Medical Center, for being recognized in this year’s Taos News Unsung Hero Awards. Thank you Merril for all you do and your commitment to making the world a better place.

Learn more about Merril’s award from the Taos News here:

Dr. Steven Slikkers Joins the Team at Taos Surgical Specialties

Dr. Steven Slikkers is a Board-Certified general surgeon and has been practicing in Michigan for the past 18 years. Steven graduated from the Loma Linda School of Medicine in 1999 and completed a 5-year residency at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in Rochester, Minnesota. Holy Cross Medical Center is proud to welcome Dr. Slikkers to our team of surgeons at Holy Cross Surgical Specialties.

When asked why he pursued a career in Medicine, Dr. Slikkers responded “I always felt like Medicine was my calling. I don’t think there is a higher honor than when a patient lets me help them. At the end of the day, if I can help someone heal, that’s it, that’s what I love.”

After his residency at the Mayo Clinic, Steven became one of five partners at Grand Traverse Surgery, a private practice surgical group. After fourteen years of private practice, the partners dissolved the practice and joined the team at Munson Medical Center in Traverse City, MI.

While general surgery can encompass a broad range of services, Dr. Slikkers specializes in minimally invasive procedures known as laparoscopic surgery. Minimally invasive techniques for surgeries mean that operations are often faster, less painful, and require a lot less recovery time. This allows surgery patients to get back to doing what they love quicker. Steven specializes in many advanced laparoscopic techniques including laparoscopic colorectal cases, anti-reflux surgery, surgical oncology, gastrointestinal conditions, and hernia repairs; including surgery for endocrine disorders of the parathyroid and thyroid, breast cancer, and endoscopy. 

“Surgery can provide almost immediate tangible results, which is very gratifying. Meeting the person where they were and seeing where we can get them to, is amazing. It is really rewarding to see the results of healing through surgery.”

Dr. Steven Slikkers
Dr. Steven Slikkers and his wife, Holly

Steven and his wife Holly share three children and a small brigade of pets. While he is excited to bring his services to Taos, employment is not his only reason for making the move. Years ago Holly visited northern New Mexico and was so moved by her experience in the Southwest that she told Steven that if they ever had the opportunity to move to the Southwest, they should take it. Steven and his wife are very excited to bring their two teenage daughters, five horses, and five dogs to Taos. The move will also allow them to be closer to their son who is attending college in southern Colorado. 

Along with their shared fondness for the Southwest and a welcome change in the weather, the family is excited about all the outdoor adventure that Taos has to offer. Outside of work, Steven is an avid skier, hiker, and fly fisherman.

“Along with the weather, one of the big reasons we are drawn to Taos is the diversity of the culture. We are very excited to get immersed in the culture and experience what Taos has to offer.”

When asked about professional highlights in his career, Steven responded “I was privileged to attend the Mayo Clinic for my residency, but as a surgeon, you don’t get awards for the most surgeries, or perfect surgeries. For me, when I help a person get better, that’s a highlight.” 

Dr. Slikkers is passionate about his work and is excited to begin serving the medical needs of northern New Mexico.

Learn more at www.TaosSurgery.org or by calling Taos Surgical Specialties at: (575) 758-3141

Holy Cross Hospital Expands Speech and Language Therapy Services

Most people think that a “speech therapist” helps people who have a lisp or need to re-learn how to talk after a stroke. This is true, but you might be surprised to find out that Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) do much more than this. Did you know that Medical Speech-Language Pathologists are experts in swallowing disorders?

Swallowing is a complex process. Under normal circumstances, we swallow about 500 to 2000 times daily. Swallowing requires the concerted actions of about 50 pairs of muscles and 5 main cranial nerves (nerves in the skull).

People with “dysphagia” have difficulty swallowing and may even experience pain while swallowing. Some people may be completely unable to swallow or may have trouble safely swallowing liquids, foods, or saliva. When that happens, eating becomes challenging or even impossible. Often, dysphagia makes it difficult to take in enough calories and fluids to nourish the body and can lead to additional serious medical problems. Dysphagia can occur at any age, but it’s more common in older adults. The causes of swallowing problems vary, and treatment depends on the cause.

Patients who experience dysphagia may benefit from a form of treatment called swallowing therapy. During swallowing therapy sessions, the speech pathologist may use different methods involving the lips, jaw, and tongue to strengthen the muscles of the mouth. Special exercises for engaging the swallowing muscles and stimulating the nerves that trigger the swallow reflex may be used. Food may be used with the exercises for different textures, temperatures, and swallowing abilities. Patients may also be taught simple ways to place food in the mouth or position the body and head to help swallowing occur successfully. Sometimes, therapy may also include a change in diet.

Speech and language pathology services available in Taos.

At Holy Cross Medical Center, we are fortunate to have a team of Medical SLPs who diagnose and treat dysphagia. Kristen Torres started the speech and swallowing program over 30 years ago. Tracey Poffenroth Prato is the primary SLP and continues to grow the program to meet the needs and demands of our community. Mia McMullen is the newest member of the team. Early this year, the SLP team worked closely with radiology to update video fluoroscopy equipment and purchase a specialized swallowing chair. Medical SLPs collaborate with Radiologists and Radiology Technicians to perform Videofluoroscopic Swallowing Studies (VFSS). This test is also called a Modified Barium Swallow (MBS) Study and is now available right here in Taos.

These specialized swallowing studies are real-time x-rays that allow Medical SLPs to see what happens in your mouth and throat when you swallow. It allows the therapist to see if food or liquids go into your airway instead of your stomach, which muscles and parts of your mouth and throat may not work well, what kinds of foods are safest for you to swallow, and if certain positions or strategies help you swallow better. It helps the therapist create a treatment plan and therapy to help improve swallowing.

Troy Martinez, Tracey Poffenroth Prato, and Marcos Romero standing with the video flouroscopy equipment at Holy Cross Hospital
Troy Martinez, Tracey Poffenroth Prato, and Marcos Romero standing with the video flouroscopy equipment at Holy Cross Hospital

With over 20 years of experience as a Medical SLP and dysphagia, Tracey is only 1 of 8 SLPs in the state who is certified in the McNeill Dysphagia Treatment Program (MDTP), an innovative and evidence-based program for swallowing rehabilitation. Tracey and the Medical SLP team use their vast experience, expertise, and compassion with their patients, which means, you don’t need to leave Taos to get great care.

For more information contact Holy Cross Physical Therapy & Rehabilitation by calling (575) 737-0304 or visit www.taosphysicalhealth.com

Written by Tracey Poffenroth Prato M.S., CCC-SLP

Community Health Needs Assessment – 2022

The Taos County Health Assessment surveys local residents every three years to identify local strengths, household challenges, and issues, as well as the perception of needs in the area. Results of this survey are used to document needs and develop plans that make Taos County a healthier place to live. This year’s survey represents over 500 submissions. You can find the results of this survey in the link below.

Monthly Video Update

In an effort to help our community understand the changes happening in health care and at the hospital, we will be posting regular updates from the administration at Holy Cross Medical Center to help share information with the public.

Board Review – September, 2022

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