Telluride Med Center: Too Close For Comfort

Staff at the Telluride Regional Medical Center work closely with each other; the are also very close to their patients. But according to Medical Center staff and their CEO, that’s not exactly ideal. Since 2007, patient visits have grown 166 percent, according to the Med Center’s Financial Director, Julie Wesseling. To meet that patient demand, primary care and emergency department staff has grown 43 percent.

Dr. Sharon Grundy, Medical Director of Primary Care, Board Certified in Internal Medicine.

For nearly 40 years, the Telluride Regional Medical Center has leased a remodeled 1960’s building, on the corner of Pacific Avenue and Townsend Street from Newmont Mining (once Idarado Mining Co.).

The facility is approximately 10,000-square-feet or half the size it should be. An independent, report commissioned by the Telluride Hospital District, estimated that looking only at today’s population, patient needs, staffing numbers and current building and safety codes, the facility should be 20,000 square feet—and that’s without adding additional services or room for future growth.

“For years, by way of design tweaks, renovations, staff increases, we’ve worked to keep our patients from feeling the ‘capacity crunch’ at our facility, but inch by inch, our staff is creeping towards a tipping point where it’s no longer comfortable for us to maintain the illusion,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, Primary Care Medical Director.

In the almost 40 years the Telluride Medical Center has existed in the current space, there have been nearly a dozen renovations to keep up with complex healthcare technologies and patient growth.

In 2015 the Hospital District moved the Medical Center’s administrative offices to a location on the east side of town and turned the conference room into an exam room for visiting specialists.

“Other essential staff have moved their work stations below the clinic, into what was an area where on-call doctors would spend the night,” said Dr. Grundy.

This summer the Hospital District is applying for permits and zoning approvals to add a temporary annex outside the facility for its growing mental health services and community education forums, to bring the CEO’s office back on-site and to add a handicap ramp for the Primary Care entrance.

Kate Wadley is executive director for the Telluride Medical Center Foundation, the arm of the Med Center dedicated to raising funds for medical equipment, capital projects, and ultimately, a new facility.

“We know our staff have been feeling the squeeze for some time,” said Wadley. “But our patients are telling us, and our exit surveys confirm the fact that the community still receives exceptional care here. But that doesn’t mean the key issue can go unresolved. These aren’t champagne problems. We’re desperate to find a new location for a new facility. And we’re ready for the community to join us in understanding the urgency.”

Since 2006—and as early as 1991, according to a Telluride Times Journal press clip, the Med Center’s CEO recently unearthed—the Telluride Hospital District has been pursuing a site suitable for a Med Center to serve the Telluride community.

John Gardner, CEO, Telluride Med Center

In 2014, it looked like the search might finally be over when, after years of negotiations, vetting, evaluations, elections and occasional controversy, the Telluride Hospital District announced the future site for a new Med Center would be Mountain Village.

In 2015, on schedule, the Town of Mountain Village went so far as to convey the land, at no cost, to the Hospital District for a facility to be built just behind The Market at Mountain Village and Mountain Village Town Hall.

The site would have offered pedestrian access via a gondola terminal, bus service, as well as convenient access for ski patrol and a helipad. The only hurdle to clear was a Wetlands Permit and Mitigation Application approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

In October of 2016, after an application process spanning more than 18 months, the Telluride Hospital District, after consulting with the Town of Mountain Village, withdrew its wetlands permit application.

“It became clear opposition to the application was slowing the process to a standstill and that the ultimate approval of our application was never coming,” said John Gardner, CEO, Telluride Regional Medical Center.

By withdrawing the application the Hospital District transferred the parcel back to the Town of Mountain Village. Since then the Hospital District’s board of directors have continued their work to find a new home.

“We’re looking at every opportunity; looking under every stone,” said Gardner.

The most plausible lot, according to Gardner, seems to be a property owned by the Lawson Hill Homeowner’s Association, who may take as long as a year before they know if they would be willing to make the land available to negotiate with the Hospital District. Their next scheduled HOA meeting is scheduled for March of 2018.

“We understand that every single open acre in the area has its own unique pros, cons and other demands, but what we’re hoping for is the collective consciousness of this community to turn its attention to this urgent and necessary need. We continue to be open to any and all ideas,” said Gardner.

So much so, Hospital District representatives are revisiting options with Newmont Mining; working with architects to troubleshoot the current facilities limitations; and consulting with experts on what possibilities exist to split primary and emergency services between two locations.

Additionally, the Medical Center’s board representatives continue to meet with all representatives of all three local governments.

“The need for an expanded medical facility, is no longer just our organization’s challenge. It is our collective moral responsibility to find a solution,” Gardner concluded.

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