For guidance in establishing the clinic, THD turned to the Stroudwater Report, a planning study funded by the Telluride Medical Capital Fund aimed at developing long-term strategic direction for the clinic, put together with a business and financial plan detailing steps and directions for achieving the goals laid out.
Advantages of the high altitude center, according to the report, are “recruitment and retention of top-flight clinical staff who also have an interest in research, the potential for grant funding for acquiring new medical equipment that can serve dual roles as clinical and research tools, and the ability to build clinical and research alliances with first tier organizations such as the University of Colorado.”
One concern, the Stroudwater Report states, is the cost of space for research assistants and equipment, but “the potential return on this investment is typically substantial.”
The 2007 THD budget has set aside $100,000 for the high altitude center, which will eventually be a self-supporting facility, THD Executive Director Gary Hughes said. Hughes said that with the help of Hackett and CU’s Altitude Research Center, Telluride “has the expertise and the service it needs” to establish the clinic. He added that local doctors are ready and willing to be trained to best treat high altitude illness.
Benefits of the clinic, outlined in the THD Strategic Plan, would include programs to improve tourist and visitor comfort and enjoyment at high altitude by avoiding or minimizing altitude related problems; provide state of the art health research, educational and medical services; work in conjunction with Telluride Medical Center operations, expanding medical services, leveraging equipment and facilities; and help attract highly skilled and competent medical personnel.
Possible research projects of the clinic could include how altitude affects sleep, blood pressure, mental health, athletic training, pregnancy, infants and children, visitors, seasonal residents, lung disease, and coronary artery disease.
The goal of the high altitude clinic, Hackett wrote in a presentation to the THD board, is to help patients “make informed decisions, enjoy their chosen life style,” avoid “mindless restrictions, and help the local economy and community.”
Hackett went on to detail plans for the high altitude center and the medical problems it needs to deal with.
Altitude sickness usually occurs following a rapid ascent and can be prevented by ascending slowly. In most cases, symptoms are temporary, but in extreme cases, they can be fatal.
Two medical conditions are concerns when humans go to high altitudes: acute mountain sickness (AMS) and high altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE).
AMS is the most common type of altitude sickness, a pathological condition that is caused by acute exposure to high altitudes. Symptoms can include headache, fatigue, stomach sickness, dizziness, and sleep disturbance.
AMS can progress to HAPE, a life threatening form of non-cardiogenic swelling and/or fluid accumulation in the lungs. This condition can lead to impaired gas exchange and may cause respiratory failure. Without emergency treatment, HAPE is the main cause of death related to high altitude exposure. Hackett said Telluride “can be the leader and coordinator” in HAPE treatment.