Wound Care Articles and Insights
August 22, 2019

Rio Grande Hospital Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center: Saving Lives in Rural Colorado

by Arlene Harms, CEO of Rio Grande Hospital

People living in small towns deserve the same level of care as those who live in major metropolitan areas. I’m proud to be the CEO of Rio Grande Hospital, a critical access hospital in Del Norte, Colorado. We offer a variety of services to more than 10,000 people in southwestern Colorado’s San Luis Valley. We operate four regional clinics in our community, and our hospital campus provides specialized services including wound care, a much-needed service in our area.

Just a few years ago, the Rio Grande Hospital Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center was only a dream. It was something we needed, but we didn’t know if we could make it happen. One day, one of our physicians spoke with me about the importance of wound care, and how it would be great if we had a specialized program for patients in the west San Luis Valley. We wanted to include a hyperbaric medicine program for patients who were driving long distances for care. 

Before our clinic opened, patients were driving up to 220 miles, several days a week, for hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT - often in harsh weather and over mountain peaks. It wasn’t possible for many of them because the distance was too great. They needed treatment close to home.

I started asking questions and talking with executives at other hospitals with wound care programs. Armed with my research, I went to our board and asked if we could put some dollars into it and make the dream a reality. 

We discussed the growing need for wound care in our area, and the mortality rate following an amputation, which is quite high - upwards of 80 percent. We also talked about the prevalence of diabetes in our area, which makes many patients more susceptible to chronic wounds. We’d already had several patients living with below-the-knee amputations, and we didn’t want more of them.

The board listened to our pitch and they were very interested. We told them upfront that we would not get a fast return on the initial investment, but we’d be saving lives and helping them avoid amputation.  

The board came back and expressed that if we could save one life in our community, it would be worth it.

We began building and ended up with a beautiful center with outstanding staff and state-of-the-art equipment. We have two physicians specializing in wound care, a hyperbaric oxygen therapy technician, a wound care nurse, and a wonderful support staff. It really is a dream come true for our community.

Today, we are the only hospital in the area that offers hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This treatment has literally been a lifesaver for many patients with severe wounds. It has saved limbs and lives.

Before we had our center, we knew that many people were not seeking treatment, or they would get treatment for only a brief time and have the wound return. Part of the reason is that we’re basically a frontier. We’ve had very snowy winters, and there’s a lot of land between houses and buildings. We do our best to find housing for patients so they can stay near our clinic during treatment. 

Not a week goes by when someone doesn’t come up to me and thank me for the wound center, and express their gratitude that we have one here. 

Five Tips for Rural Hospitals

If your hospital is considering adding or enhancing your current wound center, here are five tips for getting your project off the ground:

1. Make a plan. If you need help, consider working with an expert outside consulting firm. In our case, we partnered with Wound Care Advantage and they’ve guided us through the process.

2. Work with your board. Ask for their help - and get it!

3. Get information about your community - diabetes rates, population demographics, competitive data, etc. to help determine what you need.

4. Look for wound care physicians early on, because finding a good one can be a challenge. We were fortunate because one of our best doctors came to me about the need for wound care, and he’s been very passionate about it from day one.

5. Include two Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy chambers in your plan, if possible. If one needs routine maintenance work or if you are extremely busy, it’s good to have two.

The biggest reward for us is to see patients when they first come in at their very worst, to the day that they “graduate,” when they are healed. That is amazingly worthwhile and satisfying for everyone on our staff.

For more information about the Rio Grande Hospital Wound Care & Hyperbaric Center, visit our website.


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