First Choice building more standalone emergency rooms in Colorado Springs area

By: WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com
May 6, 2014 Updated: May 6, 2014 at 5:55 pm
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photo - First Choice Emergency Room is remodeling a former Blockbuster Video store at Woodmen Road and Rangewood Drive into its second Springs-area location. Dallas-based First Choice, which operates free-standing emergency rooms, also is building locations in Fountain and on the Springs? far north side. RICH LADEN, THE GAZETTE
First Choice Emergency Room is remodeling a former Blockbuster Video store at Woodmen Road and Rangewood Drive into its second Springs-area location. Dallas-based First Choice, which operates free-standing emergency rooms, also is building locations in Fountain and on the Springs? far north side. RICH LADEN, THE GAZETTE 

A Texas company will open three more freestanding emergency rooms in the Colorado Springs area by the end of summer as it triples its Colorado footprint in the next few months.

First Choice Emergency Room opened its first Colorado location in February 2013 at 2770 N. Powers Blvd. in Colorado Springs. It will open its second Springs location later this month at 3790 E. Woodmen Road, and is building two more - one in Fountain, the other on the far northern edge of Colorado Springs. Both are slated to open by the end of summer, said Andrew Jordan, a spokesman at the company's Dallas-area headquarters.

Last last year, First Choice opened a center in Arvada, and plans locations later this year for Broomfield and Firestone.

"Since we have been open in Colorado Springs for more than a year, we have seen a tremendous response from the community," Jordan said. "The additional access to emergency care that we have provided has been well-supported by the community. Clearly in Colorado there is a need for additional access to emergency care."

First Choice is expanding because the American College of Emergency Physicians found earlier this year that the number of people seeking emergency care in Colorado is increasing at the same time the number of emergency rooms, hospital beds and treatment centers is declining, Jordan said.

Freestanding emergency rooms such as First Choice are the target of a bill in the Colorado Legislature that would have prevented those not under a hospital's license from charging patients emergency-facility fees. Such fees often total hundreds of dollars for ER service at full-service hospitals, and are intended to offset the costs of operating around the clock and having expensive equipment on site for immediate use.

Senate Bill 16, sponsored by Sens. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and Steve King, R-Grand Junction, also would have barred operation of free-standing emergency rooms within 25 miles of a hospital, but was amended to only outlaw the fees.

The bill was approved in February by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, but has been postponed indefinitely by the Senate. The current session ends Wednesday; any bills that have not been approved by both houses are dead upon adjournment.

"The legislation would have made it a very difficult environment to operate in," said Jordan, who emphasized that the new locations have been in the planning stages for months. "We are pleased with the support from the communities where we operate for additional access to emergency care."

Unlike walk-in urgent care clinics that treat minor injuries or illness, First Choice locations are equipped to handle more serious cases, like heart attacks and broken limbs. Each location is equipped with CT scanners, ultrasound, digital X-ray machines and onsite labs, and is staffed 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week by a board-certified emergency room physician, a registered nurse, a radiology technician and a front-office employee with a typical staff of 30 to 40 for each location, Jordan said.

"Our emergency rooms function just like a hospital ER with the same staffing, equipment and same types of patients," Jordan said.

First Choice, started in 2002 by a former banker in the Dallas area, has opened 18 locations since the beginning of 2013. The company now operates 30 locations in Texas, as well as the two in Colorado.

Sterling Partners, a Chicago based private equity investment firm, put the former CEO of a surgery center chain in charge of First Choice after pumping $59 million into the company in 2012 to finance a $100 million expansion plan. The plan calls for 80 to 100 locations in several states by 2017.

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

Twitter @wayneheilman

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