The Union Printers Home will close its doors when the last residents of the assisted living and skilled nursing facility have moved out — around the end of this month — but after that, the future of the landmark building is uncertain.
“We know very little,” said Tim Boddington, president of the Historic Preservation Alliance of Colorado Springs. The alliance has expressed its concern for the historic structure, which has stood as an architectural icon opposite Memorial Park on the east side of town for 128 years.
The owner, Valor Health Network (formerly Heart Living Centers of Colorado LLC), was ordered to shut down the facility last month after a resident was found dead outside the building.
Boddington said the organization has reached out to David Reed, CEO of Valor Health Network, and is “working with [him] to try and find resources that might help them to perhaps find a suitable buyer.”
“They love the building,” Boddington said. “Their passion for it is why they bought it in the first place. It’s too bad they didn’t have the wherewithal to give it a go.”
Boddington said he understood that, as of last week, a couple of developers and a nonprofit organization had inquired about the building, but nothing has been worked out yet.
“We are concerned,” he said. “We are doing what we can to bring awareness to its historic significance.”
Reed emailed the Business Journal on March 3 that he was meeting with “potential investors/acquirers” but did not provide any other information.
A HISTORY OF ISSUES
The Union Printers Home was built in 1892 by the International Typographical Union as a hospital and sanatorium to serve the health needs of its members.
Constructed of sandstone and white lava stone at a cost of $71,144.14 on land donated by the city, the ornate Renaissance-style building at 101 S. Union Blvd. earned the nickname “Castle on the Hill.”
It was a temporary home and respite for more than 25,000 members of the union, which became the Communications Workers of America in 1987.
Originally limited to serving union members, it later opened its doors to the public and provided assisted living for seniors, skilled nursing and hospice care, along with rehabilitation programs and a veterans program.
A new wing that housed a studio, gallery, spa, coffee shop and store was built in 2012.
After 122 years of operating the home, the union sold it to Heart Living Centers of Colorado LLC, a company based in Salina, Kansas. The company won out over a lower bidder to purchase the home and took over its management in September 2014.
After that, the home was investigated numerous times by the Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services division of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Peter Myers, complaints and occurrences section manager.
The division has inspected the home 63 times in the past five years, according to data on the health department’s website.
Between March 8, 2016, and March 5, 2019, 45 deficiencies were identified, ranging from failure to properly maintain sanitary conditions in one of the facility’s kitchens to failure to ensure a resident was diagnosed and treated properly and in a timely manner for a urinary tract infection and kidney injury that required hospitalization.
These deficiencies resulted in fines of $92,877, according to Medicare.
The death of a resident, found outside the home Feb. 3, triggered the most recent investigation and closure of the home, which was mandated by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The health facilities division appointed Vivage Senior Living, a Denver-based company that operates Parkmoor Village in Colorado Springs, to take over management of the home and oversee the relocation of more than 100 residents.
That process is expected to be completed by March 27.
Heart Living Centers recently changed its name to Valor Health Network. According to the Valor website, the network also includes senior living communities in Arizona, Oklahoma and Nevada.
REGULATING NURSING HOMES
The Health Facilities and Emergency Medical Services division regulates health facilities including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, home care, hospice and dialysis facilities.
The department has the authority to issue licenses to new facilities after an extensive process, as well as to vet federal certification for Medicare and Medicaid.
“The federal requirements are overseen by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services,” Myers said. “We perform investigations for them. Nursing homes have a routine survey window, generally about every year.”
The timing depends on a facility’s performance on its most recent or previous surveys.
The division also investigates complaints from residents, family and staff.
“Once we go out and do an investigation, if we find any areas where it is not meeting the regulations, the facility must come up with a plan to remedy them,” Myers said.
The division reviews the plan and either approves it or requires further remedies. Once approved, the facility must implement the plan within a specified time.
“We go back and make sure the plan was implemented,” he said. “Typically, that is the end of that particular cycle until we have another investigation.”
If a facility doesn’t comply or there are repeated incidences or complaints, “we will continue to escalate our action,” he said. The state and federal agencies can impose civil monetary penalties, install a temporary management company “and continue to move up the line” to closure, Myers said.
“We’re still active in overseeing the care that’s being provided [at the Union Printers Home], as well as moving residents to other facilities,” he said.
According to U.S. Census figures as of July 2019, people 65 and older make up 14.2 percent of Colorado’s population, or about 817,700 people.
That number is increasing rapidly. The state demographer estimated that by 2030, the state’s 65-and-older population will rise to about 1.27 million.
In response to the coming “aging tsunami,” the Pikes Peak region has experienced a boom in construction of senior living facilities in the past nine years.
Between late 2011 and late 2018, some 25 projects were built, providing more than 1,900 senior living units.
In just the first six months of 2019, four projects were being developed that will add more than 560 units by 2022. And that doesn’t include small group senior living homes, which have multiplied in the past five years.
State and federal governments share responsibility for quality assurance of these facilities.
A 1986 publication by the National Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Nursing Home Regulation on improving the quality of care in nursing homes stated that the survey process was designed to identify and measure performance deficiencies. However, “monitoring the performance of thousands of nursing homes for quality assurance purposes has been difficult to carry out effectively and reliably,” the publication stated. “… [Issues include] both federal and state capacity for effectively carrying out their quality assurance responsibilities. These issues include funding of federal and state survey units and the numbers, qualifications and training of surveyors.”
These statements apply to the process in general and not in particular to Colorado.
Myers said the division has about 70 investigators to supervise and inspect about 4,000 health care facilities in Colorado. Of those, there are 778 assisted living residences and 231 nursing homes (also called skilled nursing facilities).
“Certainly, it’s always a challenge, with the economy and unemployment being so low and the health industry growing,” to keep up with the demand, he said. “Our funding increases a little every year. … We prioritize and investigate as much as we’re able.”
Federal funding, however, “has been static for the past seven years,” he said. “There is no question that the growth in health care settings is outpacing resources. Currently [we] have enough work to employ 12 additional investigators in just the nursing home program.”
Myers said “a very small number” of facilities in Colorado require more attention than the routine annual inspections.
“It’s important to note that people who provide care to others who need it typically get into this business for the right reasons and do the right thing,” Myers said. “By and large, our facilities are doing a good job of providing care.”
NEW USE REQUIREMENTS
The city of Colorado Springs has limited involvement in the current situation at the Union Printers Home, but its role would be greater if new owners proposed a different use, said Lonna Thelen, principal planner for land use review for the city of Colorado Springs.
The Union Printers Home sits in an R-5 multi-family residential district.
Single- and multi-family homes, human service establishments such as assisted living facilities, day care, and charter and public schools are permitted within the zone, but mixed-use commercial or industrial facilities are not.
“One of the uses they could do is multi-family,” Thelen said. If future owners wanted to convert the building into apartments, “it could be something they could go into with a building permit, if there are little to no changes. They would have to address parking, which would be higher than is required for the current use.”
Adding new structures to create a larger complex would have to be reviewed by the city Planning and Development department before a building permit could be issued.
If the proposed use is not permitted in the R-5 district, “we would evaluate if a zone change is appropriate,” Thelen said. If the proposed use is commercial, a zone change and development plan would be required and reviewed by planning staff and city council.
Thelen noted that the building is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, although it appears frequently on local lists of significant structures.
“Without being part of the National Register, it would be difficult to deny making changes to it or tear it down,” she said. “We would, of course, encourage them to reuse or remodel it, but there is not the authority for us to require that.”
The state would become involved if the new owners continue the building’s current use as an assisted living and skilled nursing facility or propose a new health care-related use.
“Should we start over from scratch, it would have to undergo another investigation,” Myers said. That investigation would include building code standards relating to safety of the residents.
Myers added that the current owners “wouldn’t be prohibited forever” from re-opening the home or opening another one, but “there would be a vetting process up front to make sure they can maintain compliance.”
Boddington said the Historic Preservation Alliance is continuing to try and help the home’s owners find a buyer.
“We’re making some calls to various entities to test their interest in something like this,” he said. “It would make a great school; it could go back to being a nursing facility, or something for veterans.”
Regardless of the building’s future use, Boddington said, “hopefully, the exterior would look just like it does today. We’re not preservationists in that we don’t allow things to evolve, but we want to preserve buildings that occupy places in our hearts.”