ASPEN - Mayor Mick Ireland and some Aspen City Council members grilled Aspen Valley Hospital officials and consultants Monday night over details of the third and fourth phases of the facility's expansion and related matters, such as whether the overall $140 million project will lead to increased health care costs that the community and patients will be asked to pay for.
Ireland harped on the hospital's contention that only one or two additional workers would be hired to serve another 83,000 square feet of hospital space outlined in the third and fourth phases. Phase I, an obstetrics unit, already has been completed. Phase II, the largest of the four phases involving 139,000 square feet, is still under construction.
Ireland said such an increase in square footage was bound to mean significantly higher operational costs. But Aspen Valley Hospital Chief Financial Officer Terry Collins said the hospital doesn't anticipate any increased staffing as a result of the third and fourth phases, except for an engineer and a housekeeper.
"In the hospital, our largest operational costs relates to staffing, nurses and other clinical and technical people," Collins said. "We're not introducing new services into the hospital; all we're doing is right-sizing the hospital for the services we already offer. There isn't going to be any significant additional staffing required."
Ireland said he didn't understand how one new staff member could service 83,000 square feet of additional space.
"I want the number of that person because that person needs to work here (at City Hall) - I can lay off about 20 of ours," Ireland said. "How do you do that?"
Collins said the hospital's "old building," meaning the current facility, is highly inefficient and its staff is cramped. It requires a lot of effort to maintain and clean because of its small size and other inefficiencies. The hospital doesn't plan to increase its bed count, which stands at 25.
"The new technology ... of the new building will essentially allow us to heat it and cool it and do all those things at a cost not much greater than what we're doing in the old building today," he said.
Ireland said he needed more convincing. He said one of his first jobs in Aspen involved cleaning hotel rooms.
"My experience was that if a room is larger, it takes more time to vacuum and dust and mop and whatever I had to do," he said.
Hospital board Chairman John Sarpa pointed to the project planning team's experience and that the board was confident in its estimate of the number of workers who would need to serve the expanded areas.
"We're confident that it won't happen," he said of the notion of increased operational costs.
Earlier in the discussion and public hearing, which began at 8:40 p.m. and ran past midnight, Councilman Steve Skadron suggested that the project that is emerging today is not the same one he voted for in 2009 when the council gave it conceptual approval.
"It appears to me that the mass and scale of this building was snuck through cleverly," he said.
Skadron said he finds himself "bothered" by the size of the project and the "economics" that will be required in the future to support it. He wanted to know if the hospital would be going to the public for a property tax increase in the future to help pay for the expansion and higher operational costs that will result from it.
Chris Bendon, director of the city's Community Development Department, reminded council members that their official task was to weigh the land-use aspects of the project, not potential financing considerations of the future.
Sarpa added that the hospital project's size was driven not by financial concerns but by the need for extra space to improve the quality of health care.
Hospital Chief Executive Officer Dave Ressler said the old footprint of the 35-year-old hospital is basically half the size it needs to be today. He said no deception was involved when officials went to the council four years ago to seek conceptual approval.
Councilman Torre said some aspects of the project, such as the new entryway, seem too grandiose. He said he would like to see the hospital present some scaled-down options that might be more to the community's liking.
The review of Phases III and IV was continued to the City Council's April 22 regular meeting.