Aspen wants more info on hospital expansion | AspenTimes.com
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Aspen wants more info on hospital expansion

John ColsonThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN The second installment of the citys initial look at the $100 million expansion plan for Aspen Valley Hospital takes place Tuesday, when city planners will recommend that the hospital come up with more information than is contained in the initial application.The planners want to know more about both how many employees the hospital believes it ultimately will need and the proposed medical office space intended for use by area physicians, according to a memo to the city Planning and Zoning Commission.The P&Z will hold a public hearing on the hospital proposal the second of four scheduled hearings at 4:30 p.m. in the Sister Cities Room in the City Hall basement. The meeting will address such issues as employee housing and site improvements. Future hearings, scheduled for Aug. 5 and Aug. 19, are to talk about such topics as parking, trails and anything that did not get a full airing in earlier meetings. The public is invited to attend and comment at the hearings.The hospital initially plans to nearly double the size of its nearly 75,000-square-foot facility, including the recently completed Phase I, a new birthing center, on a site of slightly more than 19 acres.The new hospital, if approved and built as proposed, will increase the size to more than 138,000 square feet, with 40 patient rooms instead of the current 25, plus some 17,700 square feet in medical office space for local doctors and a 76,000-square-foot, three-floor parking garage.The application before the city calls for an ultimate build-out figure of 214,000 square feet, with additional space added both above grade and below.The total construction program is projected to take until 2016, with a 20-year life cycle before any further expansions are to be contemplated.The citys questions concerning new jobs related to the project have mostly to do with a request that the hospital come up with actual employee numbers for that time when the project is completed, said hospital CEO Dave Ressler on Monday.Hospital planners so far have been reluctant to put actual numbers on paper, because the project is to be built in four phases and it is not known exactly how many jobs will be added to the employment rolls, he said.It was something under 100, he said of the estimated numbers provided to him so far by the planners. The hospital currently has approximately 400 employees, some 280 of which are full-time-equivalents, in the nomenclature of the world of planning. The rest are either part time or contract labor, Ressler explained.But the broader question about the future employment numbers is tough to nail down, he said.Were actually decongesting the hospital, he said, explaining that as the facility expands, it is anticipated that there will be more room to work in, but not a need for a corresponding increase in employees.Plus, Ressler said, the hospital may not choose to build out to a total of 40 rooms in order to preserve its status as a critical access hospital, or CAH, meaning a facility that is 30 miles or more from the next nearest hospital but serving a metropolitan population.That status, reserved to hospitals with 25 beds or fewer, means the hospital is reimbursed differently, and at higher rates, by Medicare, to the tune of approximately $1 million each year that it would not get if it lost the CAH status.If the tourist economy slows and Aspen gets fewer visitors annually, or if local populations begin to dwindle in response to the slowdown, the hospital may not actually need the full 40-bed complement, but it will still need the extra income that comes with CAH status.Also up for consideration is the hospital districts plans to come up with employee housing.Ressler said the district owns 44 housing units the Beaumont, a former lodge on the east side of Aspen with about 20 units; the Mountain Oaks, an apartment complex on the hospital grounds with about the same number of units; Resslers house, also on the hospital grounds; and several downvalley homes.Our thought process now is to at least double that number, Ressler said, though how that will be done remains somewhat mysterious as the hospital district, along with just about every other public entity in the upper valley, desperately works on finding affordable housing for local workers.jcolson@aspentimes.com


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