Society Turn

Officials discussed a new hospital, which has been outlined during the planning process of the Society Turn Project, west of the roundabout. (Courtesy image)

Plans for a new critical care hospital at Society Turn near Lawson Hill are in the works, as part of the ongoing Society Turn Project planning process. The 20-acre site, west of the roundabout, would be an ideal spot for a new critical care hospital, some officials have said, as it would be approximately 40,000 square feet, and include primary care services, overnight observation care, a helipad and emergency room.

On Tuesday morning, the San Miguel County Board of County Commissioners and the Telluride Medical Center Board of Directors came together to discuss the plans for a new hospital in a special work session.

Med center officials inquired if they could use land already zoned for deed-restricted housing for potential hospital employee housing.

“The concept of the deed-restricted land is that it’s already been created for some purpose, so using that deed-restricted land for required new development does not achieve the goal of adding affordable housing in the community,” county planning director Kaye Simonson explained. “Although the housing may not have been built yet, the intent is that it is it mitigating whatever that development was … if we allowed additional new development to claim that deed-restricted land, we would be double-dipping.”

The new site would be a critical care hospital with tentative plans to open in 2024. This is contingent upon obtaining financing from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). For a hospital to be considered critical care, it has to be a general acute care hospital and cannot exceed 25 beds, and the average length of stay cannot exceed 72 hours.

“The expectation is that their basic services are not different,” but the length of stay and size really defines it, said John Gardner, former med center CEO who is now consulting the hospital board.

The plans include a helipad on site allowing helicopters to retrieve emergency patients and transfer them to other hospitals for additional care, if needed.

“The med center has done a really good job on planning,” commissioner Kris Holstrom said. “But what we are seeing in communities throughout our region, and ours as well, is being able to keep and find employees has become more and more difficult in the region, and saying you’re going to add 22 employees if you don’t have the housing for them or if they can’t find housing, it is going to be very problematic.”

In the past decade, med center officials have experienced the effects of the workforce housing shortage. According to hospital district board chair Richard Betts, the med center currently has 66 employees. Within the last decade, more and more employees have been forced out of housing within Telluride.

“In 2010, 68 percent of our employees had a Telluride zip code. In 2019, that number dropped to 60 percent, and in 2020 it declined another 5 percent. When we talk about additional employees, we must factor in where they will be coming from. We are anticipating an increase of 20 employees when we occupy the new facility,” he said.

The med center board is already planning to work toward providing six affordable housing units for future employees.

The designated housing will be offsite because the current property for the site doesn’t provide the space due to restrictions.

“This (number) is more than what is required by the code. These units are a very high priority for us, and we are looking to lock in that housing,” hospital district board member Chris Chaffin said.

Commissioner Hilary Cooper countered by stating that while six units are within the code, the current mitigation rates for employee housing within the county code are outdated and way too low for the town’s current situation.

“Using the commercial mitigation rate of one employee per 1,000 square foot, for a 40,000-square-foot building (such as the proposed hospital), the employees generated would be 120, with 15 percent mitigation equaling 18 employee housing units,” Simonson said.

There is still plenty of work to be done, and as an isolated mountain town, it is clear a critical care hospital will benefit the community, if done correctly. However, the only way to increase the number of housing units for future hospital employees requires the two boards to work in conjunction, Holstrom explained.

“The housing that you have dedicated to the future employees is going to benefit us all and benefit you,” she said. “I would encourage us all to work together and increase that number.”

According to Chaffin, the hospital board is committed to “figuring out the path forward to green light the design and USDA financing.”

For more information about the Society Turn plan, visit societyturn.info.