Building frenzy? Area hospitals adding 500 more beds.

Author:Graham, Sandy
Position::Statistical Data Included

Hospital construction is booming in metro Denver--like never before. Between now and 2004, three new suburban hospitals plan to open with a total of 313 beds and the flexibility to add up to 800 more. Existing Denver-area hospitals also are expanding, creating roughly 125 additional beds. It's a building frenzy unmatched in Colorado history. "Thanking Back, I don't recall I've ever seen this number of new facilities being constructed," said Larry Wall, president of the Colorado Health and Hospital Association, a health-care industry group. Wall has been with the association for 29 years.

Some say it's about time--that hospitals are playing catch-up with the metro area's explosive growth. Hospital space has been so tight in recent years that emergency cases sometimes had to be diverted from one to another metro hospital. The Denver population is graying as well as growing, and older people require more health-care services.

But how much expansion is enough?

Colorado is among 15 states that killed "certificate of need" statutes in the 1980s, so state officials no longer rule on whether proposed health-care facilities are necessary Hospital executives ardently defend their current projects as prudent and conservative, but some wonder how the building boom will affect skyrocketing health-care costs.

"We know that adding more hospitals to the systems will translate to higher costs for consumers," said Donna Marshall, executive director of the Colorado Business Group on Health, an organization of employers who strive to see that the state's health care is affordable and high quality Still, Marshall agrees it's been a long time since a new hospital was built in the metro area, and that new facilities "offer a great deal of promise" in the use of high-tech computers and other enhancements to patient care.

Even some who are part of the building boom worry about the distant future.

"Do I think this hospital is a reflection we could be overbuilding? Absolutely not," said Maureen Tarrant, president and chief executive officer of HealthONE's new Sky Ridge Medical Center, set to open in August 2003 in Lone Tree in Douglas County "Do I think there could be a risk of overbuilding or building too soon? Sure. But we haven't seen it yet."

Patient needs aren't being met, said Dave Hamm, vice president, system services, for Exempla Healthcare, which operates Lutheran Medical Center in Wheat Ridge and St. Joseph Hospital in Denver. "We struggle to stay off...

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