VAIL — If we use the old “five pounds of stuff in a three-pound bag” analogy, Vail Valley Medical Center is the stuff, and the land it sits on is the bag. Fitting existing uses, and future uses, in limited space is a goal that’s been years in the making.
A few years ago, medical center officials started looking at ways the facility could better use that small parcel of property — in a neighborhood that also includes homes, lodges and the town library — as part of an ultimately-abandoned plan to use part of the town’s municipal complex property.
When that deal fell apart, Vail Valley Medical center officials changed the focus of their future planning. The goals, though, remained the same: maintain critical functions at the Vail campus while adding more parking and finding to get ambulances and other hospital traffic off Meadow Drive.
HELIPAD COULD BE AN ISSUE
There’s also the matter of where to put a helipad for air ambulances. The current site, just west of the town’s municipal offices, is actually on state highway right of way, which isn’t strictly an allowed use.
A helipad could be a contentious issue. A meeting last summer about the need for air ambulance service close to the medical center’s emergency room drew some skeptical reactions from Meadow Drive residents worried about noise and safety.
On Tuesday, the Vail Town Council listened to a presentation from hospital officials about the planning process.
BETTER, not BIGGER
Medical center CEO Doris Kirchner said the plan is a way to “really look at how we bring our (Vail) campus into the future.”
While most of the planning is about patient care, Kirchner acknowledged that the medical center also operates in a competitive regional environment. She said medical centers in Aspen, Glenwood Springs, Summit County and Steamboat Springs have all either recently completed or recently begun significant upgrades to their facilities.
But given the geographic realities facing Vail Valley Medical Center, Kirchner said “better” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “bigger.”
HIGH PRIORITY CHANGES
Still, there are some things the medical center simply must do.
At the top of the center’s priority list is moving the entry for patients, visitors and others to a different location, with access off South Frontage Road.
Other top objectives include moving the medical center’s emergency department, with ambulance traffic moved off Meadow Drive. Another top goal is creating a “concealed” loading zone.
Consultant Russel Semak, of Denver-based Heery International, said the planning process for medical centers is significantly different than planning for a new hotel or retail space.
“You’re planning around the construction and renovation of an operating facility,” Sedmak said. “How you do that without shutting down changes the (plan’s) dynamic.”
SEEKING COMMUNITY INPUT
While the plan for the medical center won’t be formally presented to town officials for a few weeks, there’s already a priority list that goes beyond relocating the medical center’s entrance. And, Sedmak said, the idea is to try to align the medical center’s needs with those of the town and community. That community input will come during the town hearings to refine and ultimately approve the plan.
Mayor Andy Daly praised the medical center team for its work so far.
“I look forward to seeing some exciting solutions,” he said.
Council member Dave Chapin said he’s also eager to see the full plan and complimented the medical center team for working with employees to understand what they need from any renovation plan.
“Even a business the size of mine needs to ask employees how to do things better, so I commend you for that,” Chapin said.