UCH makes news, and Memorial handles it

Just this past week, a patient at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs was undergoing treatment for heart-related problems.

The troubles escalated to the point of perhaps needing additional care, and after much communication, emails and faxes between cardiologists, the patient eventually was transferred to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, where she has shown continued progress.

“All the investment and millions of dollars in improvements will continue just as scheduled.”

– Dan Weaver, UCHealth

Amid all that real-world seriousness, neither the patient nor in all likelihood her physicians paid much attention to the unexpected news last Friday from University of Colorado Health, as president Rulon Stacey and CEO Bruce Schroffel announced their upcoming departures. It was about as close to a news bombshell as anyone could’ve expected in the health-care world, given that Stacey and Schroffel worked together to create the UCHealth alliance two years ago, then brought our city and Memorial into the fold in 2012.

From all indications and reports, nobody forced Schroffel and Stacey to leave. Here in Colorado Springs, we’re accustomed to a different knee-jerk response when any prominent executive or government official unexpectedly leaves, such as former Memorial CEO Dr. Larry McEvoy. Surely, we’re programmed to think, there must be a negative reason, which we’ll never know because of a severance agreement that forces everyone to clam up.

But this wasn’t like that. Stacey and Schroffel had gone to the UCHealth board and talked at length about what might happen next. Those conversations led to the two executives planning their exit, opening the way for the board to hire one person as their replacement. They’ll relinquish their titles on Oct. 1, then continue in advisory roles until the end of January.

“It was totally Bruce’s and Rulon’s decision,” UCHealth spokesman Dan Weaver said. “And for the next five months, they will work closely in every way with the transition. They simply feel that now is the right time, because we’ve seen such incredible progress to develop a system that now has 15,000 employees.”

Schroffel, who is 62, will retire. Stacey, at 53, will look for a different challenge. Among the rumors, given his self-confidence and many connections, is the possibility that Stacey might even run against U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet in 2016.

But if you’re wondering how this might impact UCHealth’s longterm lease to operate Memorial Hospital here, the response — both from Denver and Memorial — is reassuring.

“All the investment and millions of dollars in improvements will continue just as scheduled,” Weaver said. “And the physicians at Memorial already have been able to talk regularly with others in Denver and Fort Collins, making sure they’re making the right decisions for patients and about their care.”

Weaver added that on Nov. 2, “we’ll throw the switch” on a new electronic medical records system that will connect Memorial with the rest of the UCHealth system.

“In other words, for that heart patient, the doctors won’t have to be emailing and faxing anymore,” Weaver said. “They’ll simply be able to open up the patient’s entire record, in Denver or anywhere, and answer any questions.”

Likewise, he added, if anyone who has used Memorial in Colorado Springs suddenly has to go to the emergency room in Denver or Fort Collins (or, for that matter, Laramie, Wyo., which also has joined UCHealth), that person’s history and information will be instantly accessible.

And it’s not just about medical records. As Weaver put it, Memorial remains on schedule for a new roof and boiler, as well as state-of-the-art CT scan equipment, at its Central complex on Boulder Street east of downtown. And nothing will change the recently announced plans to make Memorial the only Level 1 trauma center for southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

Will there be heightened local awareness as UCHealth’s board goes through the process of finding a new president/CEO? No doubt. But the mood is calm at Memorial, given the fact that Mike Scialdone appears entrenched — and widely appreciated — as CEO and stabilizer of the local operation.

“Our folks have been through a lot, but they were OK,” Memorial spokesman Brian Newsome said. “There was some surprise at the news, but generally the reaction was pretty neutral. There was not a lot of chatter about it. Mike is the CEO they see every day here, and he was quick to point out that everything will continue as it has been. Both of them (Schroffel and Stacey) were certainly popular, but what the people here have come to realize is that this is bigger than any one individual.”

And if you ask folks at Memorial, they’ll tell you that heart patient matters more than any executive.