Leadville Doctor Honored as Superhero
Dr. Lisa is “Colorado Hospital Superhero”
Earlier this week, Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger was recognized as a Superhero by the Colorado Hospital Association (CHA). The award is dedicated to shining the light on “Exceptional People in Extraordinary Times.” Congratulations, Dr. Lisa on a well-deserved honor!
“The employees at all of our hospitals have stepped up in a big way to care for our communities during this pandemic,” said Chris Tholen, CHA president and CEO. “We as Coloradans owe our hospital workers a debt of gratitude, and through this program, CHA hopes to convey a small fraction of its appreciation for our superheroes on the front lines and behind the scenes.”
During a recent conversation, the physician shared that her office at Rocky Mountain Family Practice has seen a surge in COVID-related visits “more than 70 patients in one day, double our normal numbers.” So as the Coronavirus creeps into one more turn of the calendar, and bumps up one more turn of the dial, LT asked how the doctor who has been serving America’s highest city for more than two decades, how she was holding up under the workload that has become the “new normal” for so many medical professional.
“I’m the kind of person that when I get positive feedback, my cup fills right up,” shared Dr. Lisa, adding, “as long as people appreciate what I do, I’ll keep giving.” In recognition of her continued dedication to the health and well-being of Leadville and Lake County (and well beyond!) Leadville Today brings readers the story of Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger. May your cup runneth over, Doc!
Leadville’s First Female Physician: Breaking Down Barriers
Publisher’s Note: A portion of this post is from Leadville Today Contributor Brennan Ruegg’s 2016 interview with Dr. Lisa Zwerdlinger. © Leadville Today. No portion of this story may be re-posted or re-published in any capacity without expressed, written consent from the Publisher at email@example.com. Enjoy!
Lisa Zwerdlinger was raised in the small town of Conifer located in Jefferson County just off Highway 285 if you take the “back way” down into the city. Her father was a career military man of the United States Air Force who retired when his daughter was born and died only twelve years later. Zwerdlinger’s mother carried no formal education and supported her three children working as a receptionist.
Zwerdlinger left for the city to attend the University of Colorado for eleven years, but she always knew she’d return to a small town in the mountains. She completed her four years of undergraduate studies in Boulder, graduate school and respective residencies in Denver.
In 1998, having graduated from medical school and ready to enter the workforce, Dr. Lisa was offered jobs in all of Colorado’s most affluent cities and mountain towns. But after attending a rural health fair and finding the greatest need for high-standard evidence-based care in Leadville and Lake County, Zwerdlinger decided to return to a place much like Conifer, much like home. Arriving in 1998 she became Leadville’s first female physician.
Dr. Lisa’s goal was to provide the same standard of care for the people of Lake County that anyone would receive in Denver or Aspen. She joined Dr. Wayne Callen and Dr. John Perna at the private practice of Lake County Medical Center, where for six years she formed relationships with the community she would continue to serve for more than two decades.
As Dr Perna motioned to retire in 2004, Zwerdlinger was pregnant with her first child and posed with decisions about her future and that of her family. She was once again offered a high paying position in the city of Denver, but already 1,000 feet higher and 100 miles away from the metroplex, Zwerdlinger reflected on the six years she’d already invested.
Dr. Lisa recalls a heartfelt conversation with her husband, Jeff Foley, that year in the parking lot of the local hospital, where they weighed the decisions before them, against the future they wished to have for themselves.
“Jeff and I looked at each other and said ‘We love it here. We like Leadville. We don’t want to move to the city. We don’t want to raise kids in the city. We want to live here,’ So we hawked everything we owned, and built this.”
Dr. Lisa is of course, referring to. Rocky Mountain Family Practice which she and her husband began in 2005, and which continues to operate today as Leadville’s one and only private healthcare practice.
Giving Birth to Babies & Business
The sun rises over the Rocky Mountains ushering in a new day, and sometimes, new lives into the hands of its people. In the Pioneer days, traditional birth in a remote community like Leadville implied little more than gripping a cross and biting down on the belt. Mothers and children often perished in childbirth, much like the businesses and ideologies they brought with them. Others not only survived but thrived.
Dr Lisa, as she is affectionately known to her patients, broke ground for Rocky Mountain Family Practice (RMFP) in 2005. She and her husband Jeff Foley, (or “president and vice president,” in her words), were pregnant with her first child Yakov.
In 2006, both Yaki and the business were born. RMPF had opened its doors “on a penny and a prayer,” said Zwerdlinger in a 2016 interview with LT Contributor Brennan Ruegg.
“We didn’t have a money tree growing out back. We really hawked everything we owned, because we simply believed in Leadville and in quality healthcare. We wanted this place to be a family practice,” explained the doctor.
For the first few years while raising her newborn son, Dr. Lisa was the only practitioner at RMFP. But when she became pregnant with her second child, Layah, she knew she wouldn’t be able to maintain the same level of service doing it all herself. So, in 2007, two more members were added to the family: with the arrival of daughter Layah, came Amy King P.A.C., joining the practice as physician assistant.
Since then, RMFP has grown substantially, not only offering a variety of local services, but continuing to sustain positive working relationships with healthcare providers in neighboring communities, including Centura Health. RMFP offers wraparound care, a term describing a collaborative effort which develops an individualized plan for a patient. In fewer words, Dr. Lisa and her team offer the advantage of relationships they have formed in Leadville, and beyond.
“We aren’t trying to market these things; there is evidence that these modalities work,” explained Dr. Lisa. But, she adds, “I don’t have all the answers!”
But if she doesn’t have the answer, she probably knows someone who does. Dr. Lisa has not only fostered relationships with her aforementioned colleagues but has also been delivering Leadville’s babies at St. Anthony Hospital in Frisco, for years. Since the local hospital made the choice to no longer offer the option of giving birth in Leadville, Zwerdlinger continues to bring in the next generation of Leadvillites, albeit in a neighboring county.
When it comes to healthcare in a small town, Dr. Lisa and RMFP hit all the marks: medical integrity is intact and working partnerships are in place. It’s truly a one-stop-shop to set the people of Leadville on the road to good health.
“I have a purpose in Leadville, and my purpose is to heal my community.”
Zwerdlinger Honored as Superhero
Employees from hospitals around Colorado are being honored for their efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has introduced unimaginable challenges for health care workers who have endured the brunt of the pandemic from the beginning. This recognition honors those individuals who have gone above and beyond for their patients and communities as Colorado Hospital Superheroes. They have exhibited superhero traits during these difficult times, such as courage, a strong moral code, a fighting spirit, and mental toughness.
As part of this recognition, each honoree will receive a special gift from CHA and the program sponsors ASU, Aya Healthcare and Corvel. These superheroes will also be entered into a drawing for a transferable, full-tuition scholarship for an advanced health care degree from ASU. CHA will be honoring these superheroes at a virtual appreciation event in early 2021.
Dr. Lisa, as she is affectionately known in Leadville Today was nominated by her colleagues at the Leadville Hospital, a CHA member and now being re-branded as St. Vincent Health. The Leadville physician was one of 100 Superheroes, for a complete list of honorees, visit the CHA website.