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Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign is helping Gunnison Valley Hospital be a model for what can be done in rural health care

GUNNISON, Colo. – While the Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days Tough Enough to Wear Pink program is a grassroots effort focused on community, its impact resonates all across the country.

Robert Santilli has worked in health care for more than four decades, and he understands more than most how beneficial the TETWP effort has been in the Gunnison Valley. Now the chief executive officer at Gunnison Valley Hospital, he experiences it first-hand.

“After 40-plus years, this has been something new on me,” Santilli said of the campaign, which has raised more than $2 million that has been utilized in the local community for needed equipment and assisting families that are battling breast cancer. “I haven’t seen too many new things, but this is one that’s certainly been a pleasure to be associated with.”

The TETWP program has been in place for 13 years, and Santilli calls its association with the hospital a collaboration. That’s the most fitting of words, because together they serve the Gunnison community quite well.

Rob Santilli
Rob Santilli

“With ours being a rural hospital and a critical-access hospital, our relationship with Tough Enough to Wear Pink is one of the best opportunities we have as a gift to the health care system,” he said. “They are a group of people that are so interested in their cause, to assist and help people who have breast cancer and help them in eliminating breast cancer.

“We plan together on the needs for the community, assess what the needs for the health system are and how they can assist on funding them. This is a collaboration that has been a dream come true for us.”

In fact, members of the TETWP board have been involved in the strategic planning for the hospital. They have joined the hospital’s cancer steering committee, which is a big deal in that the group works to integrate their participation into the strategic plan and push the development together.

Over the course of the next two years, the strategic plan for the cancer care services includes 21 objectives, from marketing to equipment to therapies to advisement and all aspects in between.

“The TETWP’s finances are the key to it, but it’s really turned into something more,” Santilli said. “There has almost been a momentum that has been geometric when you entrust that TETWP has for the funding they’ve been able to put together.”

The Cattlemen’s Days TETWP features its largest fundraiser, the Songwriter Concert & Auction, will take place Tuesday, July 10, at Mt. Crested Butte, Colo., and will feature country stars Tyler Farr, James Otto and legendary songwriter Dean Dillon, who also serves as a TETWP board member.

“To be able to capitalize on Cattlemen’s Days has put them as the No. 1 fundraising group for all Tough Enough to Wear Pink in the country,” Santilli said. “Their commitment to financing the hospital is something that pushes us even harder.

“We actually have a group that gets together and starts brainstorming together. That creates ideas you didn’t think you could accomplish in a rural community.”

But community and family seem to be a common theme, both for the hospital and for the TETWP board. All money raised is utilized locally, truly showcasing the commitment to giving back to the people in the Gunnison Valley. Whether they are breast cancer patients or family members, the campaign has been about keeping that focus on those community members that may be suffering.

“I came from a very large health system,” he said. “The types of resources that I was used to seeing were dramatically different than what we’ve had here. What I brought was thinking outside the box. If we’re going to offer services here, I would like the services to be ones we would offer to our own family.

“With my background, I know where the best services are. Tough Enough to Wear Pink and that board and other key members have pushed me. They’ve been able to latch on to the kinds of things they see value in and what they’ve researched. They’ve pushed me in that collaboration. Sometimes you have to get outside of your comfort zone. My role has been to lasso that information and make it happen.”

It’s been happening. While the groups look toward the 21 objectives they want completed by the end of 2020, they also can look back at the achievements they’ve made. A year ago, TETWP money funded a 3D tomosynthesis machine, which is a higher-level mammogram for those who need better imaging technology due to breast density.

“A really telling sign when we were creating those 20-plus objectives is that we saw 20 to 25 things we did in the last year,” Santilli said. “Some of those were things we didn’t think we would be able to accomplish. To list those as completed gave us the motivation to make the next move forward. It gave us the confidence to continue taking things to the next level.”

This progressive approach is nothing new to Santilli, Gunnison Valley Hospital or the Gunnison Cattlemen’s Days Tough Enough to Wear Pink program. Through collaborations, groups have made solid ground while always pushing for bigger and better ways to help treat and assist cancer patients in the community.

“I’m most proud of an organization that has set itself apart in rethinking rural health care,” he said. “Instead of looking at what we couldn’t do because we had limited resources, we have been a model for what rural health care can be.

“What I’ve learned is with the services we provide, we actually do it better than large health systems. We are working with fewer patients, which allows us to bring a higher focus and deliver a better outcome.”


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