Longtime Carbondale doctor retires but remains at the forefront of valley health issues

Long-time family physician Dr. Gary Knaus speaks with a patient at the Carbondale Roaring Fork Family Practice Office.
Chelsea Auto / Independent Post

Dr Gary Knaus is more of a “whole person” in his own words.

So it stands to reason that his retirement after 43 years with Roaring Fork Family Practice in Carbondale will not be a full retirement from health issues in the region.

Knaus will see no more patients in the New Year, as Rifle’s native and long-time Carbondale family doctor ends a career that has seen many changes over the years.

He still plans to put all those years of experience to good use in his continued work with the Valley Health Alliance as a Board member and Medical Director.

“I do this in my spare time,” Knaus said, “but now I’ll have more time to devote to this job, and I think we’re about to do some good things.”

The Valley Health Alliance was started in 2014 by a group of employers primarily from Pitkin County to improve access to health care and work to control the cost of care and insurance in the region.

It has since grown to include the Aspen Chambers of Commerce in West Garfield County and major vendors serving the area.

“One of the things that I really love is talking about things about the system and transforming medicine from some of the things we don’t like about it to more things that will benefit patients and communities,” Knaus said.

Master the costs

The Valley Health Alliance is a forum for doing this, emphasizing more and more the importance of primary care and ensuring that people have access to this level of basic care.

“When people have a primary care provider, they get better quality, better access and better costs,” he said.

Now, with around 7,000 residents insured under the Valley Health Alliance, he said the goal was to manage this care proactively, with a greater focus on prevention, early intervention and care. integrated health care and avoiding the higher costs that result when things go unchecked.

“The goal is to have a source of primary care, so people don’t have to go to the emergency room for a cold,” Knaus said.

Alliance efforts have also resulted in the establishment of emergency care facilities across the region, which has kept emergency room costs under control.

Addressing mental health, integrated management of care, and even things like food insecurity and other social challenges that can impact health are also part of what Knaus calls “practice transformation”.

Knaus notes that a major driver of healthcare costs is when a person ends up in the emergency room or is readmitted to hospital within 30 days of being seen and treated for an illness.

Sometimes it’s because they didn’t understand a medicine that was prescribed for them, or maybe they couldn’t afford to buy their medicine, he explains.

“We’re trying to cover all of these bases… and make sure our patients are doing well, that they have all the resources they need, and remind them that we’ll see them again in a few days,” Knaus said.

This advanced level of primary care has already started to reduce costs for employers who work with Valley Health Alliance, he said.

“With the cost of health care, it depends in part on what we do, in part on the price of what we do, but in large part on how we do it and how efficiently we do it. “, did he declare. noted.

Small town documents

Knaus, 72, was born in Glenwood Springs in the resort town of Hot Springs, when part of the historic lodge served as a hospital.

He grew up in Rifle before studying at Colorado State University, where he met his future wife, retired Carbondale teacher Jill Knaus, and then received his medical degree from CU-Boulder.

After his residency in Greeley, he contacted a relatively new family practice in Carbondale that had been started by Dr. Rick Herrington. Gary and Jill Knaus moved to Carbondale and Gary began working alongside Dr Herrington in 1978.

“It was just the two of us, and back then it was sort of what you called a cottage industry, where you have your own small business, pay the bills and do all the hiring, and take care of the people. “, Knaus said of what at the time was known as the Roaring Fork Family Physicians.

Together, they were part of a new wave of family physicians as the profession of general medicine transformed and evolved during the 1970s and 1980s. More and more physicians sought to relocate to rural communities, and As the small towns of the Roaring Fork Valley developed, more doctors were needed.

“One of the things about this community is that it was easier to build relationships and get to know your patients because you take care of each and every member of their family,” Knaus said. “Over time you trust your patients, and they trust you, and it’s just that spirit of mutual respect.

“It’s really one of the values ​​we’ve tried to maintain and persist with, and it’s just the essence of what we’re trying to do. “

While Dr Herrington and his wife, Sherry, kept the business side of things with practice, it allowed Knaus to focus on broader pursuits.

“I’m more of the big picture type, so we really made a good team,” he said.

Eventually, the practice expanded to include additional physicians, medical assistants, and nurses, and Knaus branched out into various community service roles, serving on the Roaring Fork School District Council and the Board of Trustees of Rocky Mountain Health Plans. He was also a founding member of the Mount Sopris Nordic Council and recently served on the board of directors of Aspen Valley Land Trust.

Knaus was named Colorado Family Physician of the Year by the Colorado Academy of Family Physicians in 2018.

Herrington, who has also since retired, recalled that Knaus gave up his summer vacation to join the firm in 1978, as Rick and Sherry were expecting their second child.

“He arrived just in time for me to take a week off to take care of our 3-year-old son and help Sherry recover from a Caesarean,” Herrington said.

“Gary has always contributed to our community and the many organizations he has been a part of,” said Herrington. “Beyond all his recognition and service, Gary has been my precious partner and friend. He genuinely cares about people – patients and their families, colleagues and our many employees for over 40 years.

“Gary is a lifelong learner, avid reader, astute listener and observer, and has great intuition,” Herrington added. “His next role as a mentor is a logical transition to retirement. “

Longtime Carbondale family doctor Dr Gary Knaus is retiring after 43 years.
Chelsea Auto / Independent Post

A family matter

Upon arriving in Carbondale, Gary and Jill were accompanied by their then baby, Chad. For the past several years, Chad has worked alongside his father as a physician at the Roaring Fork Family Practice, which in 2011 became part of the Valley View Hospital Network.

“You know, we never really talked about his entry into medicine,” Knaus recalls. Degrees in history and Spanish prompted him to return to medical school.

After his residency in Grand Junction, Chad joined Carbondale for a few years before he and his family spent a year in Central and South America providing care as part of a global relief organization, with which he stay involved.

This work has taken him to Africa, Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean to assess and respond to health needs in those regions.

The Knaus’ daughter, Megan, works as a medical assistant at Mountain Family Health Centers in the area.

It kept all of the grandchildren close, Knaus said, “so it’s such a treat.”

Gary and Jill Knaus just celebrated their 49th wedding anniversary.

In addition to continuing his work with the Valley Health Alliance and perhaps helping some with the local nursing home, Knaus said he looks forward to traveling, gardening and tending to a small vineyard. which they keep at home in Prince Creek, south of Carbondale.

Senior Journalist / Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or jstroud@postindependent.com.

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