Whether it’s the coffee shop, the grocery store, the farmers’ market or another gathering place, the conversations with friends and neighbors this summer have eventually migrated to the topic of our health. Someone’s knee or shoulder is getting mended, someone else is awaiting an MRI, another acquaintance is preparing for the birth of a child. While the scenarios are plentiful and vast, there’s great comfort in knowing that exceptional health care is located within our town. It’s a tribute to Gordon Brittan, Dr. Tom Steinberg and the other civic minded leaders who had the wherewithal to establish Vail Valley Medical Center all those years ago when Vail was in its infancy. Today, the vision for future medical services in Vail is just as encouraging and will be discussed in more detail during an upcoming Vail Town Council meeting.
Since its establishment in 1965, the medical center has expanded its services to keep pace with the growing needs of our community. It was recently named one of the best hospitals in Colorado by US News & World Report. Cardiology, childbirth, urgent and emergency care, plastic surgery, physical therapy and world-renowned orthopaedics are provided on the site, which has been expanded, remodeled and reconfigured numerous times to accommodate the growth in services. Today, the hospital campus on West Meadow Drive has reached capacity.
Having served as a member of the medical center’s board of directors for nine years prior to becoming mayor, I was well aware that expansion possibilities were, indeed, being contemplated for the hospital; however, the focus was directed elsewhere in the county, where additional land could be acquired more easily.
The prospects were alarming to the Vail community. An economic impact analysis was commissioned by the Town Council in 2009 in which the significance of the hospital and related services in creating diverse economic benefit to the community was documented. The results were used to persuade the medical center board into making renewed attempts to retain as many services as possible in Vail. The commitment was extraordinary. Working together, the boards negotiated an ambitious plan to use a portion of the Vail municipal site to build a medical office building in collaboration with the Steadman Clinic and the Steadman Philippon Research Institute. The plan also called for construction of a new town hall on the site. Unfortunately, the project was dissolved when the Steadman Clinic withdrew as a partner in the fall of 2012.
Despite this initial setback, Vail Valley Medical Center is continuing with its earlier commitment to complete a facilities master plan for the hospital campus, which will address certain critical issues as requested by the Town Council on behalf of the community, including traffic, parking and a location for the air ambulance helipad. By assessing current needs and future growth, the plan will help guide and direct decisions for infill development, growth and expansion of the campus during the next 10 or more years.
Initial conversations with the community, including in-depth and well-attended public sessions on May 15 and June 21, have generated a list of planning considerations of significant importance to the town. At the top of the list is addressing the need for placement of a helipad on the hospital campus to provide the highest critical care transport possible as a Level 3 trauma center. The town supports the need for a proximate helipad for emergency evacuations based on guidelines similar to those in place, which limit use to critical patient requirements.
Other suggestions include use of the South Frontage Road as the main vehicular entry for ambulances, patients and employees, as well as relocation of loading and delivery services currently located on West Meadow Drive. Additional topics include adequate parking and circulation, minimizing impacts to West Meadow Drive, zoning considerations and a discussion about the future use of a portion of the town’s municipal center site.
Vail Valley Medical Center’s willingness to address these concerns has been communicated frequently by Doris Kirchner, president and CEO, and her efforts are to be applauded. The master plan team, which is headed by the nationally recognized healthcare planning firm Heery International, is making significant progress following an assessment phase which has included the earlier community input sessions.
We’ve invited Doris and her team to provide an update on the master plan during an upcoming town council meeting. If you have an interest in the future of health care in Vail and the opportunities that exist to improve the medical center campus, please watch for announcement of this discussion and plan to attend. This will be an open, public process where every voice will be heard, including impacted neighborhoods.
We couldn’t be more pleased to support the hospital’s commitment to state of the art medical services in Vail. While there’s much work to be done, the master planning is a critical step in addressing our common goals in providing superior facilities, neighborhood compatibility and the ability for the long-term success of the Vail Valley Medical Center, one of the largest employers in our community.
Andy Daly is the mayor of Vail.