Rapid growth for St. Francis

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St. Francis maternity ward nurse Kristina Dickey checks vital signs of 2-day-old Aria Jo Harland, as new parents Kimberly Carrigan and Zachary Harland look on.

St. Francis maternity ward nurse Kristina Dickey checks vital signs of 2-day-old Aria Jo Harland, as new parents Kimberly Carrigan and Zachary Harland look on.

The St. Francis Medical Center of the future could become a dominant presence in northern Colorado Springs, even replacing Penrose Hospital as the main campus for Centura Health in the city.

Unexpected growth at St. Francis, on the southeast side of the Powers Boulevard and Woodmen Road interchange, and demand for new services have led to a multi-million-dollar expansion of the hospital’s unfinished sixth floor into an orthopedic surgical center. Centura plans to expand the neonatal intensive care unit and outpatient surgical center as well.

“And the architects built this in a way that we can add on to either side,” said Penrose spokesman Chris Valentine.

“There’s definitely elbow room here. The central location is landlocked by neighborhoods. In 20 years, this could easily be the main campus — and the downtown campus could become the secondary location.”

A housing boom on the north side of Colorado Springs, coupled with cramped space at Penrose Hospital, were part of the reasons why Penrose-St. Francis Health Services opened the new full-service hospital in August 2008.

Not quite five years later, St. Francis Medical Center has blossomed into a full-service hospital with a birth center, emergency service, neonatal care, inpatient surgery center, pediatric center and trauma center.

Expected to serve residents on the north side of Colorado Springs, it now is also drawing Centura patients from as far away as Cañon City and Alamosa.

“This is where the growth is, it’s where it was predicted when we started building the hospital,” said Mark Hartman, COO and site administrator. “The area is growing, and thanks to Centura’s network of health care, we’re getting patients from southern Colorado. Instead of sending them all the way to Denver, they’re coming here, so we can treat them closer to home.”

Despite the predicted demographics, patient volume in recent months has taken everyone by surprise.

January was a record month for total admissions, with 810 inpatients during the month in the 172-bed facility. St. Francis tied its record for a single-day hospital census, with 128 patients, and had more than 4,200 emergency room visits during the month.

“That’s just a huge number for us. It’s more than any other Centura facility for the month,” Hartman said. “That’s because we’ve found that our emergency department is a portal from the east. It’s convenient access up Highway 24 from Calhan. But it also draws people from Monument and north.”

Of course, St. Francis is not quite four miles from its direct competition, Memorial Hospital North in nearby Briargate. The two entities compete for patients downtown as well. But numbers aren’t available for the north location alone, said Brian Newsome, spokesperson for the Memorial system.

Newsome says there are some plans to expand services at Memorial North. But he declined to go into detail until they were final.

That’s not surprising, Hartman said.

“We’re still waiting to see how the competition will shake out with Memorial, now that UCH (University of Colorado Health) has taken over,” he said. “We’re expecting some changes.”

But additional competition hasn’t stopped expansion plans — or growth — at St. Francis Medical Center.

Growing service areas

Care for moms and babies has been the biggest draw, according to hospital records.

The neonatal intensive care unit, for newborns born as early as 23 weeks, is normally close to full. It can care for 25 babies at a time, and the average stay is around three months.

Four years ago, the NICU had five babies on average. Currently, it averages between 18 and 22. Two neonatologists work full-time at the hospital, and there are 14 nurses on duty.

“We’ve had a 77 percent increase since we opened,” Hartman said. “We didn’t quite expect that, so we’ll be looking at expanding here in the future as well.”

And the hospital’s catheter lab, for heart patients, has seen patient volumes increase from four procedures a month in 2008 to 30 a month in 2012.

“We’re looking to double that this year,” Hartman said. “Our surgical area is growing as well — we have 68 beds there, and routinely it’s 50 percent full. When we open the orthopedic floor, we’ll have more room for other surgeries.”

Specific plans

To meet the growing needs of its service area, St. Francis is planning to spend $16 million to build the sixth-floor surgical center for orthopedics. (That top floor was left empty in the initial construction.)

Centura has created partnerships with three local orthopedic groups, and given them a chance to have a say about the construction.

“It’s great having them involved at this point,” Valentine said. “They can tell us the best way to organize the surgical suites to make it easiest for them, and for the patients.”

The hospital also is purchasing the latest version of the da Vinci robotic surgical system, and is planning to expand the number of beds available in its inpatient areas.

But growth won’t stop there. The hospital sits on 40 acres, and already has two 40,000-square-foot medical office buildings. One is full; the other is about 80 percent occupied. There’s room for additional buildings, and a private contractor is considering plans for a health center as well.

“We’re going to become a real health center hub here,” Valentine said.

St. Francis itself can add a seventh floor, and once all the available space is used, can house 300 hospital beds.

“When you consider the cost to refurbish the towers at Penrose, it makes sense to spend that money expanding here,” Valentine said.

“In 20 years, this could be the mothership.”