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A rendering of the new St. Clare’s Hospital which will be located at Interquest Parkway and Interstate 25. The 72-bed facility is expected to open in spring 2023.

Centura Health is building a new orthopedic hospital on a 58-acre lot at Interquest Parkway and Interstate 25, while expanding the four-story St. Francis Medical Center at Woodmen Road and Powers Boulevard by two floors. 

The new 72-bed St. Clare Hospital, named for one of the first followers of Saint Francis of Assisi, broke ground May 24. The $160 million construction project is expected to be complete by the end of 2022 and to open in spring 2023, with 48 beds equipped and staffed for immediate use. The remaining 24 beds can be made operational within a few months in the event of surging demand, like the patient spike seen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meanwhile, the fifth and sixth floors of St. Francis Medical Center that are currently under construction will collectively add 60 new beds, including 30 that are ICU-capable, upon completion of the expansion, slated for early 2022.

After dealing with the pandemic, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services CEO Brian Erling wants to make sure the Centura Health system in north Colorado Springs is prepared for the worst.

“With what we all experienced over the last year and a half, it’s become really clear how important it is to ensure that we have the appropriate capacity in the community,” Erling said.

Erling said the plan is for orthopedics and spine care to move to St. Clare in order to decongest the health care systems of Penrose-St. Francis, allowing those two hospitals to focus on certain specialties.

“What that means for the rest of Centura’s presence in Colorado Springs is we can create, with these three acute care campuses, high volume centers for certain services at certain campuses,” Erling said. “So general surgery and women’s services at St. Francis, for example, heart and vascular and cancer at Penrose Hospital.”

PUTTING UP WALLS

St. Clare Hospital will use a tilt up construction technique where concrete is poured into flat forms at the work site then raised into place by cranes, said Bill Lueck, director of new development at Centura Health.

Lueck said the energy-efficient wall panels — 12 inches thick and 30,000 pounds each — will go up between July and November.

While St. Clare will be equipped with advanced technology such as surgical robots, Lueck is most excited about the RTLS, or Real Time Location Services system. The information of any staff member who enters a patient’s room will automatically display on a monitor that the patient can view from their hospital bed.

“For example, a doctor walks into a patient’s room,” Lueck said. “She’s wearing a badge. As she enters the room, the monitor displays the name of the physician or the caregiver entering the room to the patient. Sometimes as a patient, you’ve got people coming in and out of your room. You don’t know who’s who, so we’re into implementing what we call RTLS technology to help make that care experience more personal.”

Previously, names were put on a whiteboard at the beginning of a shift and only erased when a new team came on, Lueck said, but RTLS means “you know who you’re dealing with at all times.” The technology can also be used to show medical images to patients and their families.

St. Clare is expected to have enough space on campus for further expansion. Lueck said Centura is evaluating a potential retail component or future health care expansion.

He said there are no “concrete plans” for a fourth hospital in Colorado Springs at this time.

Erling said after the St. Francis expansion is finished and St. Clare Hospital is built, Centura will look at where to invest next.

He said the projected growth of north Colorado Springs was taken into consideration when deciding where “easy access to live-saving care” needed to be. 

The hospital’s namesake, St. Clare, took a vow of extreme poverty — and Erling said household income levels in northern Colorado Springs were “absolutely not” a factor in Centura’s decision about the facility’s location.

“We named this hospital St. Claire Hospital for a reason,” he said. “The mission of this organization has always been to serve the community regardless of [household income]. There’s other things you weigh when you’re looking at building an acute care hospital. You look at who’s going to need acute care beds. So that means if it’s a bunch of 25- to 45-year-olds that are in the demographic pool that’s coming into a community, that’s probably not going to drive a huge utilization of inpatient hospital beds other than maybe OB, labor and delivery. So the other thing is down in the southern part [of Colorado Springs] a lot of the folks are military and they are served by a military hospital down there. So you have all of that gets weighed into it as we look at the needs.”

Residents of Southeast Colorado Springs had little access to health care before business consultant Cory Arcarese opened Value Care Health Clinic (now Matthews-Vu Medical Group) in 2014. Other clinics, such as Peak Vista Community Health, have followed suit and opened locations in Southeast, but the area still doesn’t have a hospital.

“So if you have a heart attack, or a stroke or a life-threatening event, [it] takes you longer to get to a hospital if you live in Southeast than if you live up north,” Arcarese said.

She said residents of Southeast Colorado Springs have a life expectancy 16 years shorter than those who live in the northern part of the city. Contributing to that nearly two-decade discrepancy in life expectancy, she said, is the lack of a hospital in the community.

Erling said Centura realized there was a need for additional, low-cost health care resources in Southeast, so they made attempts to address the need.

“We placed an urgent care down there, which has been very well received by the community, but did it need more hospital beds?” Erling said. “Not as much as the northern part, by our analysis.”

Arcarese believes the city of Colorado Springs should use its leverage to try to attract someone willing to build a hospital in the area, adding there are a number of ways to accomplish this.

“Can we donate land?” Arcarese asked. “Can we give them tax incentives? What can we do so that we help Southeast get a hospital?”

Arcarese said 86,000 citizens live in the area, but expects 2020 Census numbers to reflect an even larger population. That means even more people in Southeast will be without a hospital.

“What can we do as a city to help with that?” Arcarese said. “And I’m just a business consultant asking these questions, not by any means a health care expert. What if the health care experts sat down with city planners, city leaders and the hospital and public health folks and asked these questions?”

Justin Tate is a graduate of Metropolitan State University of Denver. He got his start as a staff writer for the Balch Springs Sentinel in 2011 and has covered boxing for Bleacher Report and Fox News. He joined CPH in 2021.