Mercy works to treat its growing pains
Pieces beginning to come together for hospital's expansion

Mercy Hospital As headlines, moratoriums and perceived threats swirl around the Southern Ute Indian Tribe’s proposed Grandview development, one thing has remained a constant – the relocation and expansion of Mercy Medical Center. And while Grandview appears to be an opportunity for the hospital, members of its Board of Directors say it is a necessary move for the strained facility. And the board stresses that Mercy Medical wants to keep the community involved in its growth.

In early September, the Southern Ute Tribe and Crader family announced plans to develop 920-acres adjacent to U.S. Highway 160, including the once-contentious Artesian Valley Ranch (AVR). While the 250 units proposed for AVR in the late 1990s drew intense opposition, the tribe and Crader’s push for as many as 2,000 new units in roughly the same place, about two miles east of Durango, has somehow escaped controversy to date. Like most recent La Plata County development proposals, the tribe and the Craders have seized upon the recent new urbanism surge. They have also offered to donate, with no apparent strings attached, a 35-acre parcel to Mercy Medical Center, which has consequently made plans to relocate to Grandview.

In a written statement released last week, Tribal Chairman Leonard Burch restated the tribe’s commitment to the hospital. “We have expended thousands of man hours and substantial amounts of money in order to provide Mercy with the finest possible location for the hospital that will serve southwestern Colorado for the next 50 years,” he wrote.

Long overdue

And while Mercy could be perceived as taking an opportunist leap into Grandview, its current facility is bursting at the seams. According to Board of Directors Chair Pat Murphy and Vice-Chair Ellen Roberts, the move is long overdue.
“The hospital has always been there to respond to community need,” said Murphy. “Because of the market we’re serving now, we can’t really be responsive to the current needs of the community.”

Murphy cited lack of parking, a tremendous amount of deferred maintenance, an undersized intensive care unit that regularly sends patients to other hospitals, and an inability to accept new physicians and offer the latest medical services because of a lack of room. And while Mercy has been hesitant to leave its current 8-acre location in the heart of Durango next to the Animas River, the existing facility is beyond help, according to Roberts.

“It would have been wonderful to be able to do what we wanted at the current site,” she said. “But there comes a time when a building no longer has renovation potential.”

By comparison, the hospital plans to not simply expand onto the donated 35-acres but exercise some purchasing options and acquire a total of 80 acres, 10 times the hospital’s current space. With a planned 230,000 square feet, a central hospital building as well as medical campus is envisioned with private practices surrounding it, as well as cardiology, psychiatric and dialysis facilities.
“Depending on the services we attract, we can develop into a regional facility, not because we are striving for that, but because of the excellence of the project,” Murphy said.

In addition to the land donation, the hospital expansion is also relying heavily on a $76 million loan from Catholic Health Initiatives. “Without them, this would have been extremely difficult,” Murphy said.

Murphy added that while the move appears to take Mercy out of Durango, the hospital will actually be moving closer to the middle of its changing service area. “From both a geographic and demographic standpoint, the growth over the last several years has moved in that direction,” he said. “Now, the Grandview site really represents the center of our community.”

A community process

Both Murphy and Roberts emphasized that community input has been and will

Mercy Medical Center faces problems with parking, inadequate facilities, deferred maintenance and overcrowding, as witnessed by these wheelchairs lining a hallway. ./Photos by Ben Eng

continue to be essential to the process, countering charges that this has been a back-room process.

“I think it’s important that folks realize this is not an ego trip in terms of anyone’s place in this,” said Roberts. “This is a community asset, and we have worked to get community input, and we want more. It’s not like Big Brother stepped in and said, ‘This looks like a great place to build a hospital.’”

Murphy concurred, saying that as the hospital moves out of the conceptual phase, the public will be offered numerous opportunities to shape its future. “We’ll have a complete community plan that we’ll roll out to everyone,” he said.

Government agencies and their handling of the Grandview project will largely dictate the timeline for construction of the hospital. However, a completion date of 2005 is anticipated. Toward that end, Mercy Medical Center selected a national architectural firm, Architectural Nexus, to begin work on the project. Architectural Nexus has substantial experience designing new hospitals, medical office buildings, surgical centers, clinics and campus health science facilities. Murphy and Roberts noted that as drawings become available, they will be shared with the public.

“I wish we were three years down the road and witnessing the fruits of everyone’s labor,” concluded Murphy. “This is a real monumental thing for the community in a lot of ways. We really think this will be a positive thing and something the community will be proud of.”





News Index Second Index Opinion Index Classifieds Index Contact Index