The idea proved novel: Create a clinic for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and deliver highly specialized care unlike almost anything in the nation.
Five years later, that clinic is a reality.
Now, organizers want to help others do the same.
Colorado Springs-based The Resource Exchange plans to create a research center that partners with universities across the nation to study the care it provides at its Developmental Disabilities Health Center. The nonprofit then wants to publish those results in academic journals.
The goal: determine if patients' health and quality of life improved by visiting the clinic.
Doing so may allow other nonprofits to follow suit while caring for their disabled clients, said David Ervin, the nonprofit's executive director.
"We're learning constantly," Ervin said. "You do this new thing and you hope that your outcomes are better health statuses for people with disabilities, a greater quality of life.
"But you really are speculating because there isn't a lot of precedent upon which to rely."
The research center remains in development, and Ervin expects the program to be fully operational next fall.
The nonprofit recently took a significant step forward by receiving a $50,000 grant from the California-based Special Hope Foundation, which doles out grants to improve health care for people with developmental disabilities. The nonprofit is looking to raise $143,000 in startup funding, Ervin said.
Once the center is established, Ervin plans to pursue federal grants to fund the research. That may include tracking patients' health while receiving care currently offered at the clinic, or administering surveys to gauge their quality of life.
The research may also include introducing programs or models of care.
Already, The Resource Exchange partners with three universities: the University of Illinois-Chicago, the University of Alabama-Birmingham and the University of Colorado (its programs in Boulder and Colorado Springs).
A research coordinator was hired a few years ago to oversee preliminary research programs, and the nonprofit is looking to hire a research director to head the larger project in development.
An institutional review board also will be created in the coming year, to review research projects and to ensure ethical standards are met, such as ensuring that patients have consented to participating in studies, Ervin said.
"That's nothing to mess around with - we take that kind of stuff super, super seriously, because it's the right thing to do, and it's a hallmark of quality research," Ervin said.
Each patient's needs are incredibly complex.
A random review of roughly 370 people receiving care at the clinic found each client received care for an average of nearly 15 conditions, including mental health diagnoses.
Few clinics in the nation are designed to care solely for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, Ervin said, and research is scant on best practices.
The research center may help change that.
"Imagine how cool it would be if that, in turn, could inform the development of a set of nationally adopted clinical standards," Ervin said. "Then we've risen the tide - if I can steal an expression - and all boats have risen with it."