Community effort: New facility just part of changes at hospital

Chris Thomas
Chris Thomas

Phil Castle, The Business Times

      Chris Thomas readily admits his excitement about the doctors and other health care providers who’ve joined Community Hospital and new medical services they offer. That’s to mention the impending opening of a brand new hospital in Grand Junction that soon will replace a facility that’s been in use for 50 years.

But Thomas, president and chief executive officer of Community Hospital, says he’s even more excited about the cumulative results of all those changes. And that’s offering more options that in turn will improve health care and lower costs, he says. “We think options are important.”

The operation at Community Hospital has changed dramatically over the past two years, Thomas says, as the medical staff has doubled, new lines of services have been launched and construction finally began on a new hospital. The staff has embraced those changes and the opportunities that have arisen, he says. “This organization has just jumped all over it and got it done.”

A number of doctors have joined Community Hospital over the past two years, including those practicing family medicine, internal medicine, obstetrics, oncology, plastic surgery and women’s care, Thomas says. Overall hospital employment has increased 250 over the past three years, Thomas says.

While Community Hospital has actively recruited doctors and other health care providers, some physicians have sought out the hospital, he says. The addition of the doctors is part of a trend in health care in which many physicians want to concentrate on caring for patients rather than dealing with the business functions of their practices, including billing.

Moreover, physicians are looking for more flexibility in scheduling to better balance demanding careers with family and personal interests, Thomas says.

The hospital serves as the larger organization that can handle administrative functions, but treats doctors as partners rather than employees, Thomas says. “We value our physician relationships, our physician partnerships.”

Ultimately, the hospital exists to care for physicians’ patients, he says. “We really try to take that role seriously.”

As Community Hospital has added doctors and other health care providers, it’s also added new lines of health care services, Thomas says.

The addition of oncologists enabled the hospital to open a cancer center and subsequently establish an affiliation with the Huntsman Cancer Institute in Utah to offer additional treatments. That soon will include radiation treatments, he says.

The addition of obstetricians, pediatricians and four certified nurse midwives will enable Community Hospital to offer labor and delivery services once the new hospital opens.

The hospital also offers a growing number of image-guided procedures, occupational health services and what’s called lifestyle medicine and proactive services intended to improve nutrition and wellness, Thomas says.

The new Community Hospital is set to open March 17 on a campus near 23 1/2 and G roads, Thomas says.

The four-story structure will offer a total of nearly 140,000 square foot. The new building will replace the 50-year-old hospital on 12th Street with a facility that’s not only far larger, but also laid out in a better and more efficient fashion, he says.

The first floor will include an emergency room that can accommodate a 50 percent increase in visits, Thomas says. The emergency department at the new hospital will be upgraded form a Level 4 to Level 3 trauma center, a designation that means the facility has the capability to take care of more serious cases, he says.

The first floor also will include facilities that offer the colonoscopies, imaging studies and same-day surgical procedures that constitute about 70 percent of services the hospital provides.

While there will be only two entrances to the hospital, a long, curving hallway will offer quick access to various outpatient services, Thomas says. The hallway also will connect with the 86,000 square foot medical office building that opened in April 2014 on the site.

For patients staying at the hospital, private rooms will be located on the second, third and fourth floors. One floor of the hospital will be dedicated to a new childbirth facility.

Construction of the new hospital, which began in October 2014, should be completed on time and under budget, Thomas says. The construction budget for the new facility totals $49.5 million, with an additional $10 million for land, permits and fees and another $9.5 million for equipment, he says.

Part of those costs were defrayed by the sale in 2011 of the existing hospital on 12th Street to Colorado Mesa University for $7.1 million. CMU used a portion of the 8-acre site for a new residence hall and expects to relocate some of its health sciences programs into the building.

While the impending completion of the new hospital is exciting, Thomas says the facility constitutes a tool with which to deliver health care services. By offering doctors and their patients more choices for where to obtain that care, Thomas expects the end result of the competition should be higher quality at a lower cost.

And that remains the most exciting part of the changes at Community Hospital, Thomas says. “The hospital is not the end game. We want to continue to improve the quality of care, to get more efficient, to lower costs. How do we get better at delivering health care?”