Children's Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs first patients Caleb and Joshua Stevenson turn 1

Children's Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs' first patients, Caleb and Joshua Stevenson, turn 1 year old. 

From floor colors like purple mountain majesty to superhero-outfitted window washers to a firetruck stuffed with toys, Children’s Hospital Colorado in Colorado Springs strives to show that levity can be a potent antidote for youngsters going through tough times.

“It’s little things like that that remind us we’re all kids at heart, while not forgetting we’re here for a serious mission,” said Greg Raymond, chief operating officer of Children's southern Colorado operations.

One sign of the important work of the region’s 1,100 Children’s employees is the sound of a bell ringing whenever a child undergoing cancer treatment finishes a course of chemotherapy.

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“You can’t help but hear it when you walk through the hallways, and everybody stops and smiles,” said Margaret Sabin, president of Children’s Hospital Colorado’s southern region.

The first pediatric-only hospital in this part of the state marks its one-year anniversary Thursday with an internal celebration.

Visitors to the facility are still limited because of the coronavirus pandemic, but daily business is slowly resuming as safety restrictions ease. Elective and essential surgeries have rebounded to the normal 25 to 30 procedures a day after being halted except for emergencies during state-ordered shutdowns, Raymond said.

With in-person medical visits decreasing significantly during stay-at-home restrictions in the past two months, telehealth appointments increased from 100 a week pre-virus to 6,000 a week in May, officials said.

The virtual doctors’ visits hitting “extremely high utilization” tells Sabin what hospital leaders realized before the pandemic: “We’re meeting the needs of the community.”

The hospital’s opening on May 28, 2019, eliminated 99% of the need for families to travel to Denver to get help for ill children and provided specialized care that’s not too big or too small but just right for young bodies, Sabin said.

The 294,000-square-foot, 115-bed nonprofit hospital served 19,900 patients from 54 Colorado counties and 43 states in its first year of operation at 4090 Briargate Pkwy. on the UCHealth Memorial North campus.  

Exponential growth occurred from the onset, with greater-than-expected usage averaging 54 patients per day in its first month.

Demand was fueled in part by a busy respiratory-distress season, Raymond said. That led to numerous cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, as well as the flu and other illnesses.

Until Children’s opened, Colorado Springs did not have an emergency department that catered solely to children’s injuries and diseases, he said. On the first day, 30 youngsters went to the emergency department for a one-year total of 20,200 emergency visits, statistics show.

The emergency department also has behavioral health beds where children who have mental health issues can be stabilized and evaluated for whether they can be released or need residential treatment services.

Stresses children are facing, which Raymond said are often exacerbated by problems at school or in social circles, led Children’s to launch a pilot program, “Building Resiliency for Healthy Kids,” to determine whether resiliency of sixth graders can be improved with one-on-one health coaching.

Sabin said research from the initial 300 students from a middle school in Academy District 20 shows that the theory is correct. The program will expand to three school districts next academic year.

While the hospital is new, Children’s has had employees in southern Colorado for 18 years, working in specialty and outpatient clinics, which the system announced in January would undergo a series of expansions.

Part of the construction is continuing — building out 16 unfinished rooms inside the hospital for medical and post-op patients. Like others, the rooms will be flexible and able to serve a variety of patients, Raymond said.

Building 32 additional exam rooms at the system’s Briargate Outpatient and Specialty Care location also is being completed.

The coronavirus crisis put on hold plans for a new urgent care center at 421 S. Tejon St. and a new behavioral health and development therapy clinic at 2375 Telstar Dr. But Children’s has avoided layoffs or furloughs in recent months by taking "strategic and deliberate efforts to maintain their (employee) hours and, as needed, reallocated their efforts to other programs and services during this pandemic response,” according to a statement from the facility.

With Colorado's high rate of premature births -- 9.2% in 2018, according to the March of Dimes -- the neonatal intensive care unit for newborns is a popular place, Sabin said, often ranking top-in-demand of services at the Colorado Springs hospital.

Kelly Stevenson, whose twin boys became the first patients at Children’s last May, said she appreciated the family-centered atmosphere. Born at 28 weeks, Joshua spent 109 days at Children’s in Colorado Springs and Caleb 133 days.

With her husband deployed overseas from Fort Carson, Stevenson relied on her mother, hospital staff and video conferencing to get her through the difficult start to her sons’ lives.

“It was very scary,” Stevenson said. “They took care of my kids, but they also took care of us.

“There would be times I’d be upset and crying, and they’d be the shoulder I cried on,” she said of the nurses and doctors. “They’re not just centered on the kids, but the whole family.”

The boys are doing well now, with just minor lingering health concerns, Stevenson said.

While employees are experts in their fields of medicine, “they’re also your neighbor,” Raymond said. “They don’t drive to Denver every day or fly in from somewhere else. They live here and care about the children in the community.”

Contact the writer: 719-476-1656.

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