Memorial lease agreement has been good medicine

BARBARA COTTER Updated: February 21, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 21, 2013

A lease agreement that took effect Oct. 1 has been just the medicine the Memorial Hospital system needed to revive its operations, two top executives say. But there’s a lot more work to be done — and a lot more money to be spent — to make Memorial the Southern Colorado medical powerhouse that its leadership envisions.

In a meeting with local media on Thursday, Memorial CEO Mike Scialdone and University of Colorado Health CEO Bruce Schroffel talked about the benefits that have accrued at the Colorado Springs hospital since it became part of the UCHealth system on Oct. 1: higher patient volume; a jump in the number of physicians joining the network; and a multi-million dollar investment in infrastructure, equipment, patient safety and a state-of-the-art medical records system.

“We’ve done a lot in these four months, and we recognize that we still have a very long way to go,” Scialdone said. “We’re playing catchup.”

For three years, Memorial’s fate had been up in the air as the community discussed whether it should remain a city-owned hospital, be sold to a private enterprise, or come under some other type of ownership/governance model. The uncertainty tied the hands of Memorial’s leaders, put strategic planning in limbo and created a crisis of confidence that resulted in a drop in admissions and spooked doctors from signing on with the system.

Before Oct. 1, Scialdone said, patient volume was down 11 percent from where it had been the year before, continuing a downward trend. With the stability that came with the UCHealth lease, patient volume has not only recovered, but is up by about 1 percent, he said.

“It’s a quick reversal, but it’s not sufficient,” said Schroffel.

UCH and Memorial leaders have ambitious goals for Memorial, with the idea that it will expand services north of Colorado Springs and south to the New Mexico border, and become the go-to system for health care in Southern Colorado. People may have to drive to Denver for some medical services, Schroffel said, but he estimates 98 percent of what patients need will be available locally as services expand, not only at Memorial’s central and north locations, but at its children’s hospital, which is operated by Children’s Hospital Colorado under a separate agreement.

Already, Schroffel said, the number of physicians in the Memorial network has grown by 40 percent since Oct. 1 with the addition of cardiologists, breast surgeons, neurosurgeons, a trauma surgeon and cardiothoracic surgeons. Close to $50 million has been spent on everything from the mundane, such as a new boiler, to cutting-edge, such as a surgical robot and surgical imaging system. In the first two years of the agreement, UCHealth expects to have invested more than $90 million in Memorial, and under the terms of the lease, it will continue to spend at least $28 million a year in capital improvements.

“Our goal is to grow and really support El Paso County, and, quite honestly, support north of that and south of that to New Mexico, and so we think this will become the place to be.”

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