Dr. Kent Petrie, MD, prefers to avoid the word “retirement.” So, after 40 years of providing care in the Eagle River Valley, he’s chosen to “step back” by seeing fewer patients and embracing a lighter schedule. Starting in January, he’ll provide care as needed at the Mountain Family Edwards Integrated Health Center.
“It’s truly been a blessing to take care of patients and their families over all these years,” said Dr. Petrie on a recent Monday morning. “Not just caring for patients, but also caring about them.” He notes that seeing fewer patients is bittersweet, “but I can look back on four decades and cherish the memories I’ve made during my career.”
Dr. Petrie estimates he attended about 2,500 deliveries of babies in the Eagle River Valley, starting in 1979.
“It was frontier medicine back in those days,” he recalls, noting how few medical providers were available. Dr. Petrie was the seventh doctor on staff at Vail Valley Medical Center; Vail Health now has about 350 providers.
By 1990, “we realized there were a lot of uninsured patients who weren’t getting care or were arriving at the ER for things that could have been prevented.”
To meet that demand, Dr. Petrie helped start the Eagle Care Clinic, the first Community Health Center in the area. To say it was modest is an understatement: the exam room was in a storeroom next to the hospital’s parking garage. At first, the clinic was open two nights a week and there were often long lines of people waiting when the doors opened.
“We turned no one away and worked until everyone was seen,” he continues. “It was exciting to use our skills and creativity to find services for patients, to figure out how to get patients the care they needed.”
Dr. Petrie emphasizes it was a team effort, with support from Vail Valley Medical Center, the Rotary Club, the United Way and many other local organizations, even the Cordillera Motorcycle Foundation. By 1993, the need for services grew so much that the clinic added daytime hours, three days a week.
“Adding maternity care was the step I was most proud of,” says Dr. Petrie. “We had our first delivery in 1980 in the hospital, then more and more patients were staying in Vail for their pregnancies instead of going to Glenwood Springs or Denver.” At Eagle Care Clinic, maternity services were offered in 1993 to care for uninsured pregnant patients who were showing up in labor and with no prenatal care.
In 1996, the clinic moved to its current location in Edwards, with services available five days a week. Mountain Family Health Centers assumed management of the Eagle Care Clinic in early 2014, now called the Edwards Integrated Health Center.
Dr. Petrie is quick to point out that since its inception in 1990, the clinic has provided maternity care for approximately one-third of babies delivered—and their mothers—at what is now Vail Health.
Mountain Family also provides care for more than half of the high-risk patients delivered in Vail, with conditions such as diabetes, extremes of age and significant social determinants of health. Other maternity care providers in Eagle County limit their Medicaid prenatal patients and do not accept uninsured prenatal patients. Without Mountain Family and the Edwards Integrated Health Center, these women would have no access to care. The obstetricians of Colorado Mountain Medical do provide delivery services to Mountain Family patients in the hospital, through a contract with Mountain Family and Vail Health.
In 2020, Mountain Family is pleased to continue the tradition of family medicine maternity care and delivery services thanks to the expertise of Dr. Zackary Kent, who now serves as the new Site Medical Director for the Edwards Integrated Health Center.
Dr. Petrie says there are similarities between the current demand for medical care in the Eagle River Valley and when he started in 1979.
“The need was already great but has grown proportionally with the population. As the valley has grown there are more people who don’t qualify for health insurance.” He points to the cost of prescription drugs as a big challenge, saying that finding affordable medications, like insulin, is more difficult than in years past.
“Reaching a time when we see affordable accessible health care available to all residents in Eagle County will require continued creative collaboration between Vail Health, Eagle County and Mountain Family, plus private clinics in the valley. I truly believe we need to work to find solutions on the local level and not wait for our state and federal government to solve the problem for us.”
Beginning next month, Dr. Petrie will see patients on an as-needed basis and continue to help with ultrasounds. His 70th birthday is in January and he’s looking forward to spending more time with wife, children and four grandchildren. An avid volunteer, Dr. Petrie plans to continue providing training and services on mission trips to Honduras. (“I’ve done many missions to Honduras and Tanzania with an emphasis on maternal child health care. These trips always remind me how blessed we are to live in the United States. And the trips energize me to continue to work on behalf on the underserved in our own back yard.”)
“I feel privileged to have gotten to work closely with Dr. Petrie for the past two years,” wrote Family Nurse Practitioner Jenny Lang this fall, when nominating Dr. Petrie for Mountain Family’s monthly Mariposa Award. Earlier this year she served as Site Medical Director for the Edwards Integrated Health Center. “Dr. Petrie has been instrumental in the success of the Edwards clinic. He sets the standard of how to build teamwork, show kindness to patients, and selflessly work for the betterment of the community.”
Adult Nurse Practitioner Debra “Deb” Burns also submitted a nomination. “Dr. Petrie will often visit his patients in the hospital or attend graduations, weddings, christenings and funerals. He simply is a doctor who cares for everyone he comes in contact with and will tirelessly continue the good fight of ‘never tire of doing good.’”
“We have all been blessed to have Dr. Petrie in our lives,” says Mountain Family Health Centers CEO Ross Brooks. “He sets the gold standard for care delivery with his high-quality, humorous and humanistic approach to life. It’s a frequent occurrence that someone will share with me ‘I love Dr. Petrie. He delivered me in 19xx!’ We wish him blessings as he begins to slow down and spend more time with his beautiful family and grandchildren.
“My dream for Mountain Family would include a move to a larger clinic,” says Dr. Petrie, envisioning additional medical, dental and behavior health services with easier access for patients. Mountain Family hopes to open a new, expanded location in Edwards in the near future.
“I would love to cut the ribbon at a dedication ceremony for a new space, and then walk into the sunset,” says Dr. Petrie. Until then, he’ll avoid the dreaded “r” word.