Five years ago, Colorado Springs handed the reins of Memorial Hospital to the state's newest hospital system, University of Colorado Health.

These days, its leaders say the hospital is humming.

The cash-strapped, city-owned hospital crossed into the black and wooed an increasing share of the region's patients after its lease to UCHealth took effect Oct. 1, 2012, said Joel Yuhas, Memorial Hospital's president and CEO.

In a sign of its financial turnaround, UCHealth gave more than $2.5 million to the Colorado Springs Health Foundation as part of the lease's revenue-sharing agreement. The foundation collects those funds, as well as UCHealth's annual payments of about $5.6 million, and uses them to dole out health care grants.

The lease deal proved popular back then, with more than 80 percent of Colorado Springs voters approving of the hospital's 40-year lease.

Still, there have been growing pains, including an investigation by Colorado hospital regulators that found Memorial and Children's Hospital put patients at risk by operating in the same facility. Children's Hospital is now building a new hospital adjacent to Memorial Hospital North.

Memorial Hospital's latest venture is a 24-acre campus near Powers Boulevard and North Carefree Circle. The land, which UCHealth purchased last year for $5.7 million, is initially slated to house outpatient services.

The Gazette recently spoke with Yuhas, who took the post in January. The conversation was edited for clarity and brevity.

Gazette: What is your assessment with where Memorial Hospital is now compared to about five years ago?

Yuhas: We have just seen record growth happening year on year at these hospitals - a complete turnaround of the hospital since the city days. And continued massive reinvestment from UCHealth back into this community to expand services as the community grows and to give people what they really want, and that's care closer to home. This last year... 8 percent growth in admission volumes, 11 percent growth in deliveries. We're the largest maternity provider in the state of Colorado. And our neurosciences program... we have the most comprehensive stroke program available in southern Colorado, and that's through multi-million dollar investment that the University has made in recruiting interventional radiologists and neurosurgeons who are capable of providing around the clock neuro interventional care.

Gazette: Memorial's made revenue-sharing payments to the Colorado Springs Health Foundation two straight years. Do you expect that to continue?

Yuhas: Absolutely. We are completely in a growth mode here.

But the number one issue that arose out of our needs assessment is something I've never seen before. Our number one issue is accessibility. And that marries well with UCHealth's business philosophy... improving access for people to access health services. Our biggest challenge that I see for this community is the deficit of primary care providers in a community that's growing faster than what you can train and recruit doctors to. We're doing a number of things to address that in the short run. We continue to increase our access points, so more emergency departments, freestanding emergency departments, urgent care centers. But in the long run, some of the other things that we're doing is collaboration with the CU School of Medicine and UCCS.

Gazette: There also have been some growing pains in the past five years, such as a relationship with Children's Hospital that drew state regulators' ire and the bankruptcy of your freestanding ER partner, Adeptus Health. What have you learned?

Yuhas: As any system grows, you encounter operational challenges and you rise above them. And as this hospital went through a period - even as a city hospital - that it was economically challenged. That has righted itself over the last five years. The hospital is on very sure footing. It performs financially strong and we anticipate that to continue as people continue to select UCHealth as their hospital of choice.

Gazette: The Colorado Hospital Association came out strongly this year against scrapping the Affordable Care Act. Do you have concerns for Memorial Hospital in this debate about the health law's future?

Yuhas: I'm not concerned about UCHealth's investment or enduring investment in the growth of this system. I would say every CEO in the country has concerns about the impact of what health reform will look like, as we get through this evolutionary process. We knew that the Affordable Care Act was a step in the right direction and the expansion of Medicaid allowed many people to have access to basic services that otherwise did not. We also knew it wasn't perfect and needed to evolve. So yes, I and probably every CEO that I know shares a collective concern of wanting to make sure that our legislators are aptly educated on what the impacts could be by removing care for millions of people if a repeal and replace isn't well thought through. We at UCHealth have always been really good financial stewards. And hopefully that will serve us well.


Contact Jakob Rodgers: 476-1654

Twitter: @jakobrodgers

Public safety net reporter

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