Penrose-St. Francis seeking financial support for new ICU

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In 1972, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services built a 26-bed critical-care unit. The population of Colorado Springs was 86,000. During the past 32 years, the number of El Paso County residents has swelled to half a million.

The number of critical or intensive-care beds available falls short of meeting the area’s growing needs, says Rick O’Connell, president and chief executive officer of Penrose-St. Francis.

That is about to change.

A 36-bed critical-care unit is part of a five-story medical tower under construction on the east side of Penrose Main Hospital. The tower’s second story will house the critical-care beds, and private rooms, proposed for the third story, will convert to ICU beds if needed.

“Because of the shortage of critical-care beds, it has been repeatedly necessary to divert inbound patients to other hospitals because the ICU or the emergency department was full,” O’Connell said. “Last year alone, we were on ‘divert’ for 240 hours.”

Divert status means beds are not available at Penrose or Memorial Hospitals, and patients are sent to Denver or Pueblo, said Jerry Bagg, president of the Penrose-St. Francis Health Foundation.

Bagg said the Penrose ICU’s overcrowded storage rooms, tiny waiting room and a lack of windows contributed to the need for a new critical-care unit.

Architects traveled throughout the country to study critical-care units before designing the new building. “One of the observations made was that natural light is very important to the healing process,” O’Connell said. “Patients who spend time in the ICU have a tendency to become disoriented when there are no windows. It is difficult for the critically ill or injured patient to differentiate between night and day. Therefore, we have incorporated a significant amount of natural light into all of the patient areas to help address this problem.”

Although Centura Health, the Penrose-St. Francis parent corporation, is underwriting the majority of the cost of the medical tower, the Penrose foundation is asking the community to contribute to the $10-million cost of building the ICU.

The campaign has raised more than $5 million, including $1.1 million in three-year pledges from Penrose employees. Bagg said the employee campaign has raised more money than any other hospital employee campaign in the country.

Doctors have promised $1 million over five years, and directors of the hospital and foundation boards have pledged a total of $735,000. The El Pomar Foundation has awarded Penrose $1.25 million. Bagg said the foundation needs another $5.6 million before Jan. 5, 2005, the tower’s completion date. The campaign is seeking donations from residents, small businesses and corporations.

The area where Penrose is building the medical tower has been designated an enterprise zone; thus, individuals who contribute will receive a 25-percent state tax credit.

This is not the first time Penrose has asked financial support from the community. Between 1982 and 1984, $8 million in community donations bolstered the Sister Myra James Ambulatory Care Center. A few years later, Penrose received another $8 million from the community for its new cancer center.

“The community has always partnered with us,” Bagg said. “They’ve been good to us. The hospital is functional because of community support.” Bagg has been with the Penrose foundation for 21 years, and said he believes the Springs community is generous because it harbors a history of philanthropy.

Bagg said he is confident the foundation will meet its goal in time for the opening. “This community has a reputation of giving to its nonprofits, and the hospital ICU is all serving – everyone, in some way or another, has been or will be touched by our critical-care unit,” he said.

For information about the fund-raising project, contact Jerry Bagg or Debbie Ruport, vice-president of the Penrose foundation, at 634-2046.

- Editorial@csbj.com