Penrose-St. Francis to vacate historic St. Francis Health Center

March 4, 2010
photo - The St. Francis Health Center, shown Thursday, was site of the city's first hospital. Photo by THE GAZETTE, JERILEE BENNETT
The St. Francis Health Center, shown Thursday, was site of the city's first hospital. Photo by THE GAZETTE, JERILEE BENNETT 

The historic St. Francis Health Center, once site of Colorado Springs’ first hospital, will be shuttered by year’s end, though a few tenants may stay longer as they seek new locations, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services announced Thursday.

Penrose-St. Francis estimates it will save about $2 million a year if it closes St. Francis Health Center, which houses Pikes Peak Hospice & Palliative Care, several other health-related organizations and a variety of Penrose-St. Francis clinics, said Jameson Smith, chief operating officer of Penrose-St. Francis. The 250,000-square-foot building at 825 E. Pikes Peak Ave. hasn’t functioned as a full-service hospital since 1994 and has been for sale since 2008.

“Since we have been trying to sell this building for several years and haven’t seen any buyers emerge, we doubt that we will be able to sell it anytime soon and have decided to close it. It is a matter of the optimal use of our resources,” Smith said. “That building has tremendous heritage in the community and we are carrying that forward and moving (the heritage) to a new location” with the opening of St. Francis Medical Center at 6001 E. Woodmen Road in 2008.

While most of the tenants will move out of the building by year’s end, the hospice will remain open and recently renewed its lease through January 2013, said Martha Barton, president and CEO of Pikes Peak Hospice. The nonprofit group is studying its alternatives for providing in-patient services and housing its administrative offices, pharmacy and other operations, though most of its care is provided in patient’s homes, nursing homes or assisted living centers, she said.

Penrose-St. Francis disclosed its plans Wednesday to tenants and 400 employees in the building as well as the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration, which had operated the hospital for 100 years, Smith said. Hospital officials have discussed shutting down the building since 1999, but began the latest discussions about two months ago as they were putting together the hospital system’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1, he said.

“Efforts have been made to preserve services at St. Francis Health Center for more than 15 years, but it’s now proving to be cost-prohibitive and affecting Penrose-St. Francis’ ability to serve the needs of our community in the years to come,” Smith said. “The economic crunch, declining trends in health care reimbursement and the opening of (St. Francis Medical Center) all came to a head in the last two months or so” to prompt system officials to make the decision.

Select Long Term Acute Care, which provides long-term intensive-care services to patients, is scheduled to move from St. Francis Health Center to St. Francis Medical Center once construction is completed on its facilities in June. Hand surgeon Dr. Gerald Pise would like to remain in a Penrose-St. Francis facility and is in discussions with the hospital system about where his practice will move, said Kat O’Hearn, his practice administrator.

Smith said Penrose-St. Francis is working to find locations for several medical nonprofits for which it provided free space at St. Francis Health Center, including the SET Family Clinic, Franciscan Family Wellness, Kids in Need of Dentistry, the Dyslexia Center and the Depression & Bipolar Support Alliance. The hospital system also plans to relocate its wound care clinic to the former Penrose Community Hospital and its sleep clinic and behavioral health operation to locations yet to be determined.

St. Francis Health Center began as St. Francis Hospital, established in 1887 by Dr. B.P. Anderson, a physician for the Midland Railroad Co.,  as a clinic for treating railroad workers’ injuries. With the help of fundraising by the Sisters of St. Francis, it soon evolved into a hospital that treated the critically ill and injured as well as those suffering from cholera, diphtheria and other conditions.

St. Francis Hospital was a leader in the local health care industry, opening the first clinic in Woodland Park in 1982, launching the Flight for Life helicopter service in 1983 and its own ambulance service in 1987. But amid increasing competition for patients, St. Francis merged operations with the larger Penrose system in 1987; that system is now owned by Denver-based Catholic Health Initiatives and is managed by Englewood-based Centura Health.

One of the most promising buyers for St. Francis Health Center, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, considered the building to house an expansion of its Colorado Springs clinic, but ruled it out, said Jordan Schupbach, a VA spokesman in Denver.

Once the building is empty, it will be more marketable to potential tenants, said Richard Kelly of Grubb & Ellis/Quantum Commercial Group, who is the listing agent for both St. Francis Health Center, the former Penrose Community Hospital and an adjacent medical office building. The hospital system is seeking $8.65 million for all three buildings, which Kelly said is a bargain because the El Paso County Assessor’s office values the Penrose Community complex at $22 million.

“We have looked at converting the building to apartments, but it is not economically feasible,” Kelley said of St. Francis Health Center. “It may make sense as an assisted living facility, medical office building or general office building. Right now, though, there just isn’t a lot of activity on that building.”

Ron Butlin, executive director of the Downtown Partnership, called the organizations and operations at St. Francis Health Center, which is just east of downtown, an asset to downtown and said their move out of the area would be “unfortunate.”

Contact the writer at 636-0234.

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