How Vail Health is building for the future of its employees, patients
Vail Health makes progress on construction of Fox Hollow employee housing and Precourt Healing Center, both in Edwards
Over the past several years, Vail Health has continued to expand and grow to meet the needs of not only its patients but its employees as well.
From adding new services, programs and providers to the rapid growth of Vail Health Behavioral Health — which now includes Eagle Valley Behavioral Health, Mountain Strong, the Precourt Healing Center and Wiegers Mental Health Clinic — the health care provider has been building out its presence in the community.
Currently, this growth includes two significant construction projects in Edwards: The Precourt Healing Center located at the Edwards Community Health Campus just off Interstate 70, and Fox Hollow, which is located at 18 and 22 Murray Road, right off U.S. Highway 6.
Precourt Healing Center
Since breaking ground and starting construction last October, the Precourt Healing Center has been growing taller — hitting its max vertical height in late August this year — and is beginning to take the shape of what will become an inpatient behavioral health facility for the community and Vail Health.
Once completed, the 50,000-square-foot facility will provide 28 beds — 14 for adolescents and 14 for adults — for short-term stays and treatment in the valley.
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Currently, the project is on schedule for construction to finish in late summer, or early fall next year according to Craig Cohn, Vail Health’s chief real estate development officer. This will allow the facility to open to patients in the spring of 2025.
“We are within days of where we anticipated we would be on this process,” Cohn said.
Once construction started last fall, crews got to work preparing the site — including putting up the retaining wall, flattening the site and bringing utilities where they’ll be needed — moving into the vertical construction this summer.
“What you see now is the steel superstructure — the building itself — is now at its full height, its full size. So what you see is 100% of what the building will be,” Cohn said.
As winter looms, the goal now is to frame the walls and close up the building by early winter so construction crews can focus on finishing the building’s interior during the winter months.
Last winter, the “colder and snowier” conditions put the construction team slightly beyond schedule coming into the spring, but Cohn said the “warm, dry, sunny summer and early fall” has put the project “within days” of the anticipated schedule. However, aside from those winter delays, Cohn said the construction has been going as planned, in part due to the experience of the in-house development team and construction team.
“For the most part, we’ve been working together since 2018. So we’ve built hundreds of thousands of healthcare square feet together as a team,” Cohn said, adding that the Precourt team includes Davis Partnership Architects, Haselden Construction and Cummings Corporation. “Picking that right team has really helped us a lot to manage construction and timing and those challenges that come up here and there, much better.”
While there are some elements of the Precourt Healing Center that fall in line with other Vail Health healthcare construction projects, it also has elements that are unique to its function as an inpatient facility.
“Because you’re caring for patients 24/7, and then layer on top of that for behavioral health, there is an even higher level of protections that need to be built in the facility to make sure that no harm can be done by a patient or to a patient,” Cohn said, adding this includes considerations on doors, furniture, hardware and more.
Cohn noted that it is “unlike anything we’ve ever built before.”
Behind the scenes, Vail Health is preparing for the operations and staffing as well. Casey Wolfington, a licensed psychologist and senior director of community behavioral health at Vail Health, said “not a day goes by that we’re not meeting and planning” for its opening.
Wolfington said that in preparation, Vail Health’s team has been touring similar facilities across the state and plans to do the same on a national level to look at leaders in the inpatient psychiatric facility realm.
“We really want this to be state of the art and a gold standard for inpatient care,” she added.
When the facility opens, it plans to open with a maximum 28-bed capacity.
“We already have our staffing models planned, and we’re talking a lot about recruitment, retainment, addressing typical barriers for that. We think we’re incredibly well poised to be ready even prior to where we want to be staffing-wise, which is very exciting,” Wolfington said.
The facility is expected to add roughly 150 more employees to Vail Health’s staff — which currently sits at around 1,600 individuals. As with all Eagle County (and national health care) employers, the challenges that exist are predominantly related to the cost of living as well as the availability and affordability of housing.
Fox Hollow employee housing
This is where the construction of Fox Hollow in Edwards comes into play. Currently, Cohn said that Vail Health has 93 units of rental housing. Fox Hollow will almost double this as it brings 87 additional units — a mixture of one-, two- and three-bedroom units — for its employees. The site will ultimately have 13 freestanding buildings.
“When you drive by today, you see five of those buildings are already in place,” Cohn said. “Four of those five buildings we’re going to be able to move our staff into in January.”
Construction began in March and has moved at a good pace, in large part due to the project’s use of modular construction.
“If anyone’s driven by and seen how quickly those buildings came up, that’s because the actual components, almost like Lego blocks of these buildings, come from a modular home manufacturing facility in Boise. So they get trucked here, basically as large containers, and then are assembled by a crane on site,” Cohn said.
The modular components arrive on site with the flooring, lighting, countertops, plumbing, bathroom fixtures and kitchen appliances already inside those boxes, he added.
What this allows for is for the local construction crews from BGV Edwards to do site work at the same time the houses are being built in the factory.
“We’ve really done as much as we can to shrink the construction timeline and also make them as cost-effective as possible so that we can afford to purchase them and in turn, afford to rent them to our staff at a rent that is significantly less than what market rent is in Eagle County,” Cohn said.
The goal is to be 100% done with the project in June 2024. Cohn noted that the team is working to see if it can phase move-ins between the first occupancy in January and completion in June.
“Regardless, we will have 87 units, 218 beds, all for our Vail Health staff in 2024 for a project that started in the spring of ’23,” he said.
The housing development was designed as a unique partnership between Vail Health and Breckenridge Grand Vacations. All of the development’s 87 units will be rented to Vail Health employees. Vail Health is purchasing about a third of the units and will master lease the remaining two-thirds from BGV, which it will in turn sublease to employees.
The organization plans to base rent based on income. Specifically, it plans to use the Housing and Urban Developments definition of affordable housing as rent being 30% of a household’s income. Thus, rent will be based on salary and other household income earners. Additionally, the rent will include utilities and other moving cost reductions to ensure affordability.
While it’s a little early for the health care organization to begin the selection process for the units’ renters, Cohn feels certain the demand will be greater than the supply.
“Just like all other businesses in the Valley, but in particular health care, we’re losing more health care workers on an annual basis from retirement than we’re getting new health care workers coming into the industry,” Cohn said. “You add to that the cost of living in Eagle County, which makes this an even bigger challenge. If we don’t provide more housing for our staff, we just don’t have the ability to recruit against those other metro areas, but, maybe even more importantly, to retain staff once they’ve gotten here and they’re challenged with the cost of living.”
Building up behavioral health
As these two construction projects stay on target, Vail Health is continuing to forge ahead in other areas as well. Specifically, it is working to make progress on the access and affordability of its Vail Health Behavioral Health services and programs, Wolfington said.
In recent months, the subsidiary has worked to add services — including opening the Wiegers Mental Health outpatient clinic in February with new services like transcranial magnetic stimulation and soon, Ketamine treatments — to improve efficiencies of its internal programs and increase staffing.
“We’ve increased staffing on the therapy side, on the psychiatry side, we have a behavioral health nurse, for the first time in the last year, dedicated to some of these clinical services,” said Paige Baker-Braxton, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of outpatient behavioral health services at Vail Health. “We have also expanded the support team so that we have more folks behind the scenes that are able to get people connected, get people scheduled, and address any billing concerns or insurance issues.”
These increases have “facilitated that increase in our community being able to get services,” Baker-Braxton added.
In particular, the organization has worked to be able to provide same-day or same-week behavioral health services. Wolfington noted that this doesn’t include all providers, but does include all of its service lines.
It also includes an integrated behavioral health program with Colorado Mountain Medical, which dispatches providers in under four minutes when a patient screens high for depression or suicidality with another provider, according to Baker-Braxton.
This program, she added has seen a “huge increase in utilization,” with many of the patients entering the Vail Health Behavioral Health portal for the first time.
Over the past few years, Baker-Braxton added that it has also seen an increase in the need for services addressing adolescent and early childhood behavioral health, including disordered eating as well as an increase in the need for substance use recovery, crisis services, and suicidality support. While Vail Health is growing its services, programs and providers to meet these needs, it is also partnering with other organizations including Your Hope Center to provide a full continuum of care to community members.
It is also working to expand this model for behavioral health outside of Eagle County.
“In July, we became their designated Community Mental Health Center,” Wolfington said. “As of Nov. 1, we will have four dedicated clinicians operating out of our Frisco Health Center there, and we’re just really excited to provide services. Summit County is such a sister community with so many people living and working and sharing this geographic region, so we’re excited to expand our services there.”