Telluride's Ballot Measure Notwithstanding, the Die Is Cast

TELLURIDE - Although Telluride Hospital District President Larry Mallard declined to say there is “zero chance” that Telluride could keep the medical center during an interview this morning, it appears that the Town of Telluride has lost a lengthy battle to keep Lot B of the Pearl Property in consideration as a site for the new facility.

On Wed., Sept. 17, THD held a public meeting to hear public comment and address questions about potential sites for the new medical center. That same day, directly following public comment, the board went into executive session for the purpose of finalizing their decision as to which sites would be under final consideration for the medical center.

And next day, on Thursday, during a public forum at the Sheridan Opera House, the distrit  officially named lots H & I, the site offered by the Lawson Hill Property Owners Association, and the site offered by the Town of Mountain Village near Town Hall, as the only two sites it will consider for the new medical center.

During Wed.'s packed special meeting at the Miramonte Building, the hour allotted for public comment was a flurry  of animated discussion from citizens regarding both the location of the medical center, and details about the facility itself.

And while a few locals, such as Telluride resident Ray Levy, expressed disappointment in the Telluride Town Council for failing to act effectively and spoke in unequivocal support of keeping the medical center in Telluride, other members of the public seemed willing to consider the proposition that Telluride might not be the best location for it.

Mallard weathered the questions and comments with patience, stating, “We are at a point where we have narrowed this to two sites and we are trying to get it down to one.... We can’t look at the RV lot in Telluride, which is frustrating, but I understand why. We need to pick a site now.”

Throughout the meeting, Mallard cited relevant facts and concerns, such as the result of a THD survey, which indicated that more people in town want the medical center outside of town, the fact that the specific location of the medical center will not affect fundraising efforts, and that splitting the medical center into two or three different facilities in different locations was impractical.

Mallard also cited statistics to argue that although siting the medical center in Telluride would continue to make it easier for Telluride residents to have access, the majority of both emergency and family practice patients do, in fact, come from surrounding towns, with 70 percent of emergencies coming from outside Telluride, and 60 percent of non-emergency patients also from outside of the town.

After public comments had closed, he informed the public that the board would go into executive session to reach a final decision, and the Hospital District would host a public forum the next night to explain their decision and field questions and comment.

Mallard confirmed in an interview that during the executive session, the Hospital District board decided to move forward with the Lawson Hill and Mountain Village sites, essentially confirming what had been decided in their previous board meeting.

“We want to have it narrowed down to one site by the end of October,” he continued, “and have a contract signed regarding whatever parcel we choose by December.”

Although the Hospital District announced its official decision at the Thursday forum, Mallard said that possibly because grievances and questions had been handled on Wednesday, there was not a single public question or comment during the forum itself.

At the forum, Mallard summarized for those in attendance some of the advantages of the remaining sites, such as ability to expand beyond 25,000 square feet; access, including each site’s potential for a helicopter landing pad (both sites will require the construction of one on the roof); and parking. Mallard further emphasized that the quality of the facility has been the most important concern in this process, with the site being secondary.

Is It Really Over For Telluride?

Just last month, the Telluride Town Council unanimously agreed to place a question on the November ballot to ask voters whether the RV lot adjacent to the Pearl Property should be used as a site for a new Telluride Medical Center, a recreation center, or affordable housing units.

This week's decision by the Hospital District Board now  beg the question whether the ballot question is moot.

Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser said in an interview this week that, “yes, we are keeping the medical center on the ballot."

"When we decided to commit to the ballot it was with a basic understanding about what could be happening related to the Hospital District’s decision making," Fraser said. "We cannot remove it anyway. It was going on regardless of any decisions by the Hospital District.”

Although Fraser is sticking by an earlier position that "it’s not over ‘till it’s over," he added that the Hospital District Board may have a question they want to deal with if voters decide in November that they want a medical center on Lot B.

“I had pretty much guessed what the outcome was going to be with Hospital District," Fraser concluded. "We had stated we didn’t want to undermine their process and they should proceed with their plan.  We felt and still do that the electorate needed to be involved in the decision making for Lot B. Even though the ballot is non-binding it did allow for some direction from the community."

While Mallard declined to state that there is absolutely no chance that the medical center could still end up on Lot B, but did say, “I am reluctant to speculate on the hypothetical outcome of the election, but I don’t anticipate there is any scenario, nor do I envision any circumstance, in which Telluride will still be considered as a site.”