Aspen hospital official: ‘We can see the future’ | AspenTimes.com

Aspen hospital official: ‘We can see the future’

ASPEN – If mounds of dirt, piles of steel and walls of concrete are indicators of success, the expansion of Aspen Valley Hospital is right on track.

“Sometimes it feels like two steps forward and one step back, but the bottom line is we are right where we want to be,” AVH CEO Dave Ressler said Tuesday, during a tour of the construction site. “Look around. … You can see what the future holds. You can see real progress being made.

“And this is the way it should be. It is not opulent or extreme; it’s what’s necessary.”

AVH broke ground in December on Phase II of the expansion plan – which began with the completion of the Aspen Birth Center in 2008 – after voters approved the issuance of $50 million in general obligation bonds in the November 2010 election. The bonds will be repaid over 20 years by a property tax increase; the owner of a home valued at $500,000 will pay an extra $3 per month, for instance.

Phase II includes, among other things, an expansion and renovation of in-patient areas, physical therapy, cardiopulmonary rehabilitation and food services, as well as the creation of medical office space, a parking garage, and affordable housing.

The first steps began last winter and primarily focused on infrastructure to the 34-year-old hospital – drainage, preparing to put in the parking structure, etc. Patients noticed the work, but were not directly affected, AVH officials said.

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Now, the impact is a bit greater as work moves into the existing building. As a result, patients are being moved if work is happening on a certain area of the building; and, at times, private rooms are unavailable.

“If we make people aware of what is happening, they are very understanding,” said Frank Goldsmith, AVH’s community liaison for the project, noting that he and other hospital administrators communicate with hospital staff and patients daily about when and where construction impacts will be felt. “Communication has been key.”

Residents of Whitcomb Terrace have been perhaps most affected by the construction thus far, as the loop road – which circles around the senior center – was put in place. But as with hospital patients, Goldsmith and hospital administrators kept an ongoing dialog with Whitcomb Terrace officials and residents.

“I think it’s actually provided a little bit of entertainment value,” said Goldsmith, adding that he is also in constant contact with residents of surrounding neighborhoods. “I think everyone understands this needed to be done, and just wants to be informed of what’s happening.”

Hospital staffers have also felt the pinch of construction; the expansion plan has meant shared offices as areas of the hospital have been closed for renovations before new spaces become available.

“We have to do what we have to do and they understand – especially now that they can see what the future looks like,” said AVH spokeswoman Ginny Dyche, adding that staff members were given tours of the construction site earlier this week. “We were cramped before, so that is nothing new. But now they see what the end result will be and they are truly excited.”

A plan for Phases III and IV, which includes work to surgery services, the emergency department, and all outpatient services, will likely be presented to the city of Aspen for approval in early 2012; it has already received conceptual approval. Hospital officials anticipate completion of the entire project, at an estimated cost of $120 million, by fall 2016.

jmcgovern@aspentimes.com