Aspen hospital expansion enters the spotlight |

Aspen hospital expansion enters the spotlight

ASPEN ” A proposed expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital that anticipates hundreds of cars on a daily basis could result in gridlock at the entrance to town that’s even worse than it is now.

That’s just one concern voiced by Aspen City Council members, who on Monday got their first glimpse of a proposal that calls for an additional 214,395 square feet at the hospital. The existing facility is 75,700 square feet.

“The roundabout is the Achilles heel here,” Mayor Mick Ireland said. “It’s nearly at capacity … it’s not that the hospital will make it fail, it’s already failing … it’s already close to not functioning now.”

An expanded facility could generate so much traffic that even an ambulance wouldn’t be able to get through the circular gridlock, he said of the traffic device.

Council members said they agree that the hospital’s 30-year-old facility is inadequate to provide quality care for patients and space for staff. The council also acknowledges that changes in the health-care industry have necessitated changes in the current delivery of services.

But some elected officials said they are concerned the hospital master plan neither goes far enough in planning for decades to come, nor takes into account all of the community’s needs, such as a detox facility, which is not part of the current proposal.

Ireland said a detox facility makes sense on a health-care campus and not as a separate facility somewhere else in town. And with 100 liquor licenses issued in town, the need for detox is real and it’s the town’s responsibility to provide it, he added.

“If not us, then who? Where?” Ireland asked. “In my neighborhood?”

Councilman Jack Johnson said he also is concerned that the proposed expansion won’t be enough to provide a continuity in health care for the distant future. He also said if a detox facility isn’t part of the hospital campus, it will eventually be proposed elsewhere.

However, the initial plan is a good start, he said, and he is sold on the fact that the current facility is inadequate in terms of space and services.

“From a conceptual standpoint, I think you propose a reasonable and rational plan,” Johnson said. “I’m not crazy about the parking garage, but I understand why that might be necessary.”

The plan is to expand the facility in four phases so that hospital operations can continue over five to seven years of construction. The total buildout is anticipated to be completed in 2016.

The first phase is under way and includes renovating and expanding the obstetrics ward.

The second phase includes an underground parking garage and surface lot that would accommodate 339 spaces. The second phase also includes a two-story addition that would wrap around the north and east sides of the building.

As part of phase three, the two-story addition would be built on the hospital’s west side. The first floor would include the expansion of the emergency and imaging departments, a surgical suite and central plant upgrades.

On the second floor, medical office space is proposed, as well as patient and family services, and a rooftop heli-pad.

The final phase includes a new entrance with a revised patient drop-off area. A chapel would be built in the new facility, and the cardiology clinic and lab would be relocated and enlarged, as well as the occupational health and outpatient clinic.

The planned expansion would be on the hospital’s largest piece of land, a 19.1-acre parcel that has a total area of 832,085 square feet.

Councilwoman Jackie Kasabach said while the hospital does a good job of housing its employees throughout town, she said some affordable housing should be built on site. No employee housing on the facility campus is proposed in the plan, but hospital officials are considering providing it elsewhere, in places like the city-owned Burlingame Ranch development near Buttermilk.

The hospital is funded by a special taxing district but relies heavily on its revenues to stay financially viable. Expanding its services to meet the needs of an aging and growing community will strengthen the institution’s positioning in the regional health care industry, hospital representatives said.

Hospital board member Dr. Barry Mink said expanded and specialized services like plastic surgery and sports medicine and science at the facility could make it a destination health-care facility. For example, office space might be available for visiting practitioners such as a plastic surgeon from Los Angeles who could be based at the Aspen hospital a couple of days a week.

“These are things that we think we can do that can’t be found at other hospitals on the Western Slope,” Mink told the council.

Medical offices in Aspen that have been forced out of town due to high rents or a landlord’s desire for a different use also could be based at an expanded hospital campus, hospital representatives said.

Hospital officials will go in front of the council on Jan. 26 to discuss noise, transportation, site improvements and a host of other details in the conceptual plan. Johnson said the council’s issues about the hospital expansion are similar to other development proposals it has considered in recent years.

“It seems to me that our concerns are need, scope and infrastructure,” he said. “Sounds like a typical Aspen project.”

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