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Andy Stone: A Stone’s Throw

OK. I’m a little embarrassed here, so stick with me while I try to work my way through this.

Here’s the basic problem: I have tried as hard as I can, but I still cannot bring myself to oppose (attack, assault or disembowel) the new, expanded Aspen Valley Hospital.

I know I should.



It is certainly enormous. It looms over Castle Creek Road like a doomed 747 on a flight path to disaster.

And it certainly looks to qualify as a prime example of heedless, greed-driven gigantism and reckless empire-building.




These are certainly all things I am against.

Furthermore, the opposition to the hospital expansion features any number of people I like and respect.

In short, if I were a halfway decent, intellectually honest person, I really, really ought to eagerly join the torches-and-pitchforks mob.

But I just can’t.

Why?

Well, for one thing, while the newly expanded hospital is most certainly gigantic (unfortunately and unattractively gigantic), it is not being plopped down right in the middle of Aspen’s historic downtown core (like some other projects I could mention but won’t).

And while it does loom over the first quarter-mile or so of Castle Creek Road (see “doomed 747,” above), once you’re past it, the hospital disappears, and you’re on your way up that semi-rural valley with nothing ahead to ruin the view except all those hotel-sized private houses. (Can’t call them “homes,” can we?)

And, really, that quarter-mile of road – starting from the industrial-strength roundabout and going past Pitkin County Senior Services, Community Health Services, the Marolt housing complex and even the original hospital itself – is already kind of a public-services corridor. We’re not talking unspoiled wilderness.

So I do not feel compelled to oppose the hospital expansion purely on the grounds that I have opposed similar examples of obnoxious growth in the past.

But, setting my ethical quandaries aside, the real reason I cannot bring myself to attack the hospital expansion is my personal experience there.

Over the years, a lot of people have attacked the level of medical care available here in Aspen. I know people who flee to the Big City (Denver, New York, L.A., Chicago – pick one) when they face a medical crisis.

But I have pretty consistently (and, unfortunately, pretty frequently) relied on the Aspen hospital over a period of more than 40 years – stretching back to when I was working at the Chevron station on Main Street and a customer’s dog lunged out the car window and bit me on the nose. (A nasty, bloody business, for sure.)

And over those years, I have noticed one thing in particular: The people who work at the hospital have been almost uniformly warm and caring and concerned.

Sure, there have been a few bad eggs – but astonishingly few.

And if some of the doctors were a bit dicey all those decades ago, the quality of the people and the quality of the medical care have consistently improved over the years. If I needed a brain transplant (and some have suggested it couldn’t hurt), I might go elsewhere, but in general, I’m pretty darn happy with the care right here.

For reasons we don’t need to go into right now, I have spent a lot of time up at the hospital lately, and I have been more impressed than ever with the people who work there.

And when I talk to those people (not the doctors – who are the culprits being accused of greedy empire-building by hospital opponents – but the nurses who actually get things done), they are all deeply pleased by the improvements in their working conditions and the improvements in the care they can give their patients.

These nurses know, firsthand, the situation at the hospital, and they all agree that the improvements are not just wonderful but really necessary. Wonderful for the staff, necessary for the patients.

Now, there is no doubt that the enormous new building has come as a shock to a lot of people.

I cannot say whether that results from a failure of communication (by the hospital), a failure of vision and skill (by the architects), a failure of oversight (by government), a failure of scrutiny (by the newspapers) or a failure to pay attention (by many of the people who are now screaming the loudest).

And, to be honest, I’m a little outraged myself when I see the published “artist’s conception” drawings of the new hospital, which are all from a perspective that shows the existing building with just a few little tweaks. “No problem here, folks,” those drawings say. “You’ll hardly notice a thing.”

Those drawings are just plain deceptive advertising.

But it’s a little late now to redesign the project, a little late to think we can stop it in its tracks without making things a whole lot worse.

No, it’s not a little late. It’s very late.

Once you’ve jumped out of the plane, it’s not the time to start repacking your parachute.

Or, to get medical with our metaphors: We are halfway through a brain transplant, and this is not the right time to start looking around for a different brain to stuff into the patient’s empty skull.

As I recall, Dr. Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor, stirred up a whole lot of trouble that way. (The brain marked “criminally insane” just looked a lot fresher than the “genius” one.)

So, yes, maybe the new hospital could have been smaller. Maybe it could have been better designed. Maybe the construction could have been better organized.

Maybe.

But that hulking parking garage is already there.

And any tinkering right now will only result in exchanging a looming building for a slightly different looming building that doesn’t function very well.

Sorry, Igor, but it’s not a good trade.

So, as I said at the beginning, I know I ought to be bitterly opposed to the vastly expanded hospital.

But I’m not.

I think it actually will be an improvement.

As Carol Doda (go ahead, Google her, I dare you) once said, “Sometimes bigger really is better.”

Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His email address is andy@aspentimes.com.


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