Although its branches extend beyond Colorado, with three major facilities, a fourth on the way and millions of dollars invested in Colorado Springs, Penrose-St. Francis Health Services is deeply rooted in its community.
It all began when a physician and four nuns extended their own olive branch to injured railroad workers in the late 1880s. To accommodate the workers, they successfully campaigned to build the first hospital in Colorado Springs – St. Francis Hospital – what is now St. Francis Health Center.
And two orders of nuns have since proven that crusading for community health needs has become a habit.
The Sisters of Charity began operating Penrose Hospital shortly after it was founded in 1890. In 1978, they purchased Penrose Community (founded in 1975) at the request of Penrose Hospital’s administrator, Sister Myra James Bradley of the Sisters of St. Francis.
In 1987, the Sisters of St. Francis and the Sisters of Charity consolidated their health care facilities nationwide and locally established Penrose-St. Francis Health Services, which is operated today by Centura Health and sponsored by Catholic Health Systems.
Penrose-St. Francis has gone full steam ahead since its historic beginnings amid the railroad heydays.
The health care system is one of the largest employers in the Springs, with about 3,000 associates, said Rick O’Connell, CEO and president.
“As a result, we have a significant impact on the local economy,” O’Connell said. “We spend in excess of $20 million each month on nurses, other manpower, supplies and utilities to operate.
“We spend nearly $4 million per year on utilities, making us one of CSU’s (Colorado Springs Utilities) largest customers. We also spend millions each year on rental costs on some of our facilities.”
Millions are spent on non-reimbursed care as well.
“Last year, we paid $47 million in uncompensated care,” O’Connell said.
“The truth of the matter is that it is federal law that we, too, see anyone who comes into one of our facilities for care whether they are covered by insurance or not. Our emergency room visits increased by nearly 2 percent last year to nearly 86,500 visits – making us among the busiest in the state.”
Just like its city-owned competitor, the Catholic hospital system is spending big bucks on expansion.
In January 2005, a new five-story E-Tower opened on the Penrose Hospital campus.
O’Connell said the health care system is investing more than “a quarter of $1 billion” in the new facility at Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road. “We’re estimating that this new 350,000-square-foot, full-service hospital will have a $350-million gross revenue.”
The projected completion date for the northeast hospital, which will include about 158 beds, is early 2008. Medical office buildings also are planned for the 45-acre site.
The Springs growth and the two hospitals’ drive to keep abreast of it allows choice for the community, said Andrea Coleman, chief operating officer. She has been with Penrose-St. Francis for one year and came from the Midwest, where she said it was dog-eat-dog for two hospitals in one small town trying to survive in a non-growth community.
“Here, we have the luxury of growth,” she said. “Both hospitals are needed … both organizations are highly utilized as opposed to other areas where they are over-bedded.
“One of the things that makes hospitals most fiscally responsible is high occupancy. When you have made the investment that’s truly required to offer highly specialized care, it’s used well when there are lots of people using it.
“As health care costs continue to soar, the biggest challenge you face in operating the budget is remaining profitable.”
Coleman said Penrose-St. Francis is profitable in part because the hospital is able to aggregate its buying power – the advantage of its association with Centura.
And buying smart and mitigating waste also is important to health care in general, she said.
“The hospital’s fiscal responsibility in contributing to health care reform is to be prudent purchasers,” she said. “And I do not perceive a great deal of product or other waste at Penrose because of good supervision and good processes for managing our supplies and inventory.”
“We have a moral and ethical responsibility to steward our financial resources in a manner consistent with our mission vision and values by offering accessible health care to everyone – the poor, the vulnerable and the community,” O’Connell said.
While the two organizations compete to ensure accessibility in a burgeoning market, Coleman said any semblance of rivalry is set aside for the good of the bigger picture.
“We collaborate on community health issues like chemical dependency and disaster preparedness,” she said.
“We are very interested in building a healthy community … we’d like to affect real, sustained improvement in the health of our community by working with various constituencies,” O’Connell said.
“For the consumer, having one hospital that is highly specialized with outstanding services and resources equal to any major city is good for our community,” Coleman said.
Let alone two.
The proof is in the pudding, she said. If both hospitals weren’t meeting the needs, there would undoubtedly be a third player.