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New hospital for Aspen?

Aspen Valley Hospital, renowned for its quality of patient care, is alarmingly overcrowded, has been functioning close to capacity for many years, and officials are now considering the possibility of building an entirely new hospital.

A regulatory organization recently went so far as to mandate immediate changes to the hospital’s operating rooms, saying they were safe, but substandard.

The hospital has allocated $10 million to begin immediate renovations. But the board is also considering far-ranging changes, including constructing a new hospital. A hospital representative will discuss AVH’s future with the Aspen City Council in a work session this afternoon.



In recent years, the hospital, which is partially funded by taxpayers, has consistently ranked highly on patient satisfaction surveys. In 2002, a survey run by Avatar International found that, compared to 173 hospitals across the United States, AVH’s emergency care ranked “outstanding” and that the hospital “exceeded patient expectation.”

Ginny Dyche, hospital director of community relations, said excellent care is provided despite trying working conditions.



“A lot of people don’t realize the problems ” we are bursting at the seams,” she said. “The hospital has done an excellent job at protecting our patients from our physical plant limitations.”

Hospital board President John Sarpa confirmed that the board is considering the viability of building a new hospital, either on AVH’s current site or elsewhere in the hospital district. One possibility being considered is a land swap of AVH’s 11-acre property for another property that might be larger, although not as close to Aspen.

Interim CEO Dr. Bob Karp said he supports the construction of a new hospital.

The board is under pressure to reach a decision on future changes as soon as possible. The hospital stands to lose millions of dollars in current renovation expenses if a new hospital is to be built and renovations abandoned.

“It obviously makes no sense to put $10 million into this interim renovation if we’re going to move somewhere else soon,” board member Elaine Gerson said.

Sarpa said that in light of the possibility of a new hospital, current renovations are being made only in the most critical areas. He said nowhere near the $10 million set aside will be used until the board agrees on a master plan.

“We are working as efficiently as possible to draft a satisfactory master plan,” Sarpa said. “In anticipation of the possibility [of a new hospital], only the most needed changes will be made first.”

In 2002, the Joint Committee on Accreditation of Hospital Organization, an independent, not-for-profit organization that evaluates and accredits more than 16,000 health care organizations in the nation, stated that the hospital’s operating area must be improved by May 2005.

There is currently not enough space in the operating area to store all of the patient “chargeables” ” sterile gloves, screws, operating instruments, etc.

Equipment is currently stored outside the sterile operating area and transported in closed containers to the operating rooms, posing a greater risk of contamination.

Also, one of the operating rooms was deemed by the accreditation committee to be too small for larger procedures. It is also only a few feet away from the entrance to the adjacent nonsterile cardiology unit.

To address these needs, the hospital has borrowed $10 million to begin renovations. The operating area will be expanded into an area that now houses the cardiology unit. Cardiology will move to the space currently used by the medical records center. Medical records will replace the hospital’s equipment storage center, and hospital equipment will be spread around the hospital and also moved to a storage center in Carbondale.

Kris Marsh, executive director of the Aspen Valley Medical Foundation, said the shuffling required to expand the operating rooms illustrates how crammed the hospital is for space. She said the foundation has pledged a campaign drive of up to $30 million for large-scale renovations.

The current hospital board is considering what form the larger renovations may take. A provisional master plan, drawn up under the leadership of former hospital CEO Randy Middlebrook, is currently being revised. Middlebrook recently resigned over differences with the current board.

[Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com]


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