FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Bone doctors use King Airs to serve patients in WY, NE

Orthopedic care specialists operate 4 C90As to link network of rural clinics.

By Mike Potts
Contributing Writer


(L–R) Orthopedic Surgeon Ryan Aukerman, Chief Pilot & Aviation Dir Cody Diekroeger and Pilots Cranleigh Wilkinson, John King and Vince Hedrick with one of Gem City Bone & Joint's King Air C90As. Aukerman is on the clinic's executive committee, which oversees the flight department.

It was 1976 when Doctors David Kieffer and Robert Curnow jointly opened a clinic called Gem City Bone & Joint to practice orthopedic medicine in Laramie WY.

Laramie is a small city, with a population of only about 31,000 today, and in order to expand their practice Kieffer and Curnow began reaching out to other communities around the state, where orthopedic services were not readily available.

This proved to be a welcome service and the practice grew, but the doctors and their staff were starting to spend a lot of time on the roads of rural Wyoming, where the weather is frequently bad and travel can be difficult. In 1984 Kieffer had something of an epiphany—what if, instead of traveling by car, they could fly?

They started with a rented Cessna 182 and then progressed to a chartered Beech Bonanza, but the high altitude environment—field elevation at LAR (Laramie WY) is 7284 ft—and wintry weather made a single-engine airplane impractical. The following year they acquired a Baron, but that still wasn't enough to really get the job done. They subsequently bought a King Air C90A, which proved capable of supporting their travel requirements.

Fast forward 25 years. Drs Kieffer and Curnow are retired now, but not before seeing their local practice grow into the premier orthopedic care center in the Rocky Mountain region.
Gem City Bone & Joint has grown into a practice with 8 surgeons supported by a staff of 138 technicians, nurses and support personnel.

The original 7500 sq ft facility in Laramie has grown to a 32,000 sq ft clinic and the company also operates a network of 15 satellite clinics in Casper, Cheyenne, Douglas, Gillette, Green River, Rawlins, Riverton, Rock Springs, Torrington and Wheatland WY, plus Alliance, Kimball, Ogallala, Scottsbluff and Sidney NE.

Getting to the people

Gem City Bone & Joint's primary clinic in Laramie WY has grown into a 32,000 sq ft medical center complex, serving patients from all over the state. Business aviation has made that growth possible.

The company now operates 4 King Air C90As under a subsidiary company called Air Doc. Trent Kaufman, executive director and business administrator for the practice, says fully 80% of the clinic's business is directly attributable to its flight operation. "It's all about getting to the people," says Kaufman.

For the citizens of Wyoming, western Nebraska and South Dakota and northern Colorado, the benefits stemming from this growth are considerable. A city the size of Laramie would typically be large enough to support 2 orthopedic surgeons, Kaufman explains, and these would likely be standard surgeons with routine skill levels.

To obtain the services of a subspecialist, with specialized skills in hands, knees or shoulder replacements, would require traveling to a much larger metropolitan area. And for the smaller communities Gem City Bone & Joint serves—some with fewer than 5000 residents—a local orthopedic surgeon would be out of the question.

(L–R) Gem City Founding Doctors David Kieffer and Robert Curnow. Lab technician prepares a patient to enter the clinic's extremity MRI machine. Technician prepares to take an X-ray.

By contrast, residents throughout the area served by Gem City have access to 8 (soon to be 10) orthopedic surgeons with subspecialties that include knee and shoulder replacement, spinal diagnosis and treatment, hand and wrist injuries, carpal tunnel injuries, microscopic nerve repair, sports medicine and arthroscopic surgery, including advanced arthroscopic procedures.

One of Gem City Bone & Joint's specialties is sports medicine. The practice has a long history of providing services to the University of Wyoming, and also supports the sports programs of high schools and community colleges all over the state.

In addition, over the years Gem City has invested more than $9 million in facilities and equipment, including an extremity MRI machine and X-ray equipment. The company contracts with subspecialty radiologists to help interpret the results. It's a "win-win situation" entirely made possible by Gem City's use of business aviation.

Flight activity grows

Gem City flight department is based at LAR, and operates from a 7500 sq ft hangar it leases from Cowboy Aviation, the sole FBO on the field. Flights depart and arrive from the FBO. The department flew more than 1400 trips last year, and logged about 900 flight hours collectively on its 4 aircraft. The addition of more doctors later this year is projected to increase flight activity by about 10%.

Chief Pilot & Dir of Aviation is Cody Diekroeger, an 18,000-hr ATP whose background before Gem City was primarily in regional airlines. Diekroeger studied aviation management and business at Metropolitan State College in Denver and the University of Northern Colorado in the late 1970s before joining Rocky Mountain Airways/Continental Express, where he flew Twin Otters, Beech 1900s and de Havilland Canada DHC7s.

He also logged some time with a Denver CO-based Part 135 operation before joining Gem City in 2001 when the clinic acquired its 2nd King Air C90A.

Diekroeger reports to a 2-man executive committee consisting of Drs Ryan Aukerman and Thomas Bienz. Bienz is also a pilot who owns and operates a Piper Aerostar—but, when it comes to the Gem City flight department operation, he says all flight or safety related decisions are left to the professional pilots.

In addition to providing the transportation that supports the business, Aukerman says, the flight department makes a significant contribution to the doctors' quality of life. "We can see patients all over the state, and yet be home every night with our families," he says.
"The flight department is the business," says Bienz. "It's that simple."


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