Historic donation to help fund CMU health center

Phil Castle, The Business Times

CMU President Tim Foster
Bryan Johnson
Amy Bronson

A new health sciences center is scheduled to open this fall at Colorado Mesa University, a facility funded in part by an unprecedented donation.

SCL Health St. Mary’s Medical Center contributed
$3 million to the $13 million project under construction on the Grand Junction campus. That’s the largest donation St. Mary’s has ever made and CMU has ever received.

“It is truly an enabling gift,” said CMU President Tim Foster.

St. Mary’s President Byran Johnson said he considers the donation an investment in CMU students and programs that in turn will help meet growing demand for health care providers in Western Colorado. “It’s critical to be able to carry out our mission.”

What will be named the St. Mary’s SCL Health Medical Education Center will include in a 20,000-square-foot building two classrooms as well as instructional laboratories and clinical space for treating patients, said Amy Bronson, director of the master’s of physician assistant studies program at CMU.

The center will house degree programs in physician assistant studies as well as occupational and physical therapy, Bronson said.

The center also will accommodate increased student enrollment in those programs, she said.

Foster said the health sciences center long has topped a list of priorities for state funding, but the money was diverted to help pay for all-day kindergarten instruction across Colorado. The latest promise of funding was rescinded because of the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on the state budget.

It was decided to proceed with construction of the center and seek funding elsewhere. The donation from St. Mary’s made the project possible, he said. “It’s just a huge shot forward. The largest gift couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Additional donations will help pay for the project — including $1 million from Community Hospital, the largest contribution ever for the Grand Junction hospital.

The donation from St. Mary’s constitutes what Foster called the latest chapter in a long story of collaboration between the hospital and CMU.

In 1946, the board of trustees for what was at that time Mesa College donated land in Grand Junction where the St. Mary’s Medical Center now operates.

What’s now CMU has expanded over the years degree programs in nursing and other health care fields to help meet the needs of St. Mary’s and other providers, Foster said.

Students who complete CMU programs tend to stay in the region to work and live, he said.

Johnson said the additional programs offered at the new health sciences center will help in meeting demand for those professionals.

Lydia Jumonville, president and chief executive officer of SCL Health, which operates St. Mary’s, said a growing work force will be needed to keep pace with services in Western Colorado. “SCL Health is dedicated to expanding access to affordable and reliable health services in this region. It’s why our investment in CMU and this program makes so much sense.”

Bronson agreed. “In addition to a much-needed building, the investment helps create an ability to continuously adapt the needs of each organization to one another’s and work together to prepare students to enter the medical and health work force.”