AVH expansion needs critical look
As a taxpayer with experience in health planning in Arizona, I attended the Aspen City Council meeting three years ago when Aspen Valley Hospital sought approval for Phase II of its projected four-phase expansion project. At that time, it was apparent to me that the hospital “visionaries” had a carefully calculated plan to build a major medical-care campus in the Aspen backyard.
The hospital’s medical professionals have been dedicated to serving the Aspen community – that is not the issue. It is responsible use of taxpayers’ dollars by hospital administration that is the target of my concern.
There was general consensus within our community in 2010 that the hospital needed updating. Phase I already had modernized the OB facilities. The hospital’s Phase II proposal identified its first priority to update and renovate the 25 existing hospital rooms, and add 11 more, retaining our “small community hospital character,” consistent with area population size. Other than the 36 state-of-the-art patient rooms, current Phase II construction relates very little to patient care.
Since Aspen is a world-class sports resort, it seems reasonable to support a renovated, well-equipped emergency facility, with triage capability: to identify patients who could be adequately treated locally and to stabilize those patients who needed to be transported to a larger, tertiary-care facility.
The most astonishing thing is that the emergency-room renovation was deferred to the final phase of development! I do think we taxpayers have been hoodwinked. We have been fooled into financing the huge Phase II expansion, including a cafeteria, employee housing, medical offices and a behemoth parking garage, before we get what we really need.
Speaking of financing, let us remember that a hospital must care for a “critical mass” of patients in order to avoid operating in the red. A huge increase in overhead costs already has been added to the hospital with the Phase II project. Will utilization/reimbursement for services generate the revenue to sustain these increased costs?
It is therefore highly appropriate at this juncture to pose these questions to the hospital management: Can you give us utilization data? What is average daily occupancy over the past year, and has this changed over the past five years? What is the breakdown of that occupancy level? How many beds on average are occupied in the already-renovated OB unit, the intensive-care unit, the medical unit, the surgery units? And what is the average daily patient volume that presents to the ER? To the outpatient services?
I am not optimistic that the Aspen City Council will have the courage to turn down approval for the AVH Phases III and IV because the ER renovation is in the equation, along with an additional 78,000 square feet of bricks and mortar.
As Aspen City Council considers the Phase III and IV expansion, I urge them to ask critical questions of AVH administration and take responsible action.