Since 2006 the Telluride Regional Medical Center has been actively seeking a site for a new facility — the current building is woefully inadequate. Medical center staff hope 2020 was the year the community saw too, in earnest, just how dire the situation is. 

And if community-wide support for the Medical Center is any indication, they may have their wish. 

The backstory is this: Since 1978 the region’s only home for medical care has operated out of a 10,000 square-foot building built in the 1960s. There have been many renovations over the decades and in recent years a myriad of innovations meant to alleviate capacity challenges, but as it stands today, the facility would have to double in size just to meet current health and safety codes, according to an independent study. 

“We’re at a point where there’s no way to make more of the space within the facility,” said Karen Winkelmann, CEO of the Telluride Regional Medical Center.  

“Most people are very happy with the care they receive at our med center,” said Dr. Christine Mahoney, director of primary care. 

“Which is great, but it doesn’t help us paint the larger picture, which is that our staff are working on top of each other, the exam room to provider ratio falls short of medical standards, we fail to meet handicap accessibility regulations and our facility cannot handle multiple and simultaneous emergencies.”

Which was the case in 2020 when the pandemic pushed staff and patients into outdoor festival tents leased from Viking Rental. 

From March through November medical center staff saw patients with respiratory symptoms in the outdoor tents or in one of two negative airflow rooms inside the medical center. 

In May, administration at the Telluride Regional Medical Center began working with community partners to secure a short-term lease of the Telluride Depot building — which was recently vacated by the Ah Haa Art School and stands to be the eventual home of the Telluride Science Research Center.

Expanding medical services to a nearby building is only a short term solution to the medical center’s facility woes. The lease of the Depot building is set to expire September 2021, (though it could be extended for up to an additional year if the pandemic persists). 

“Our facility, which we lease and do not own, is failing us in many ways, under even normal circumstances,” said Winkelmann. 

The medical center leases the building from Newmont Mining. The lease expires in 2032.

The interim clinic at the Telluride Depot allows for medical staff to now safely and efficiently meet the demands of the community throughout the pandemic while also preserving the medical center as a safe place to maintain non-COVID-19 healthcare services. 

The Interim Depot Clinic, as medical center staff call it, opened in late November. Healthcare workers now see over 250 patients a week for COVID-testing and medical evaluation for respiratory symptoms. 

Of course, this ancillary medical home comes at a cost.

In addition to emergency federal and state funding, to meet the myriad unforeseen costs presented by the pandemic, the Town of Telluride and the Telluride Mountain Village Owners Association (TMVOA) Board of Directors have each committed $100K and the Telluride Medical Center Foundation, which raises money for capital improvements and ultimately a new facility, pledged $150K to the effort.

Additional funding continues to come from hundreds of individuals, businesses and foundations — like the Telluride Foundation, the Colorado Hospital Association, Colorado Health Foundation, El Pomar Foundation and Johnson Family Foundation.  

“This is a true community effort,” said Kate Wadley, executive director of the Telluride Medical Center Foundation. “And I have every faith that the community we serve will continue to support us as we work to find a forever home for the community’s medical needs.”

As for finally landing a site for a future home of the medical center, there is good reason for hope in the coming years. The Telluride Hospital District — the governing body that oversees the Telluride Regional Medical Center — is presently working closely with a private land development company with holdings in the region to secure a deal that would convey approximately 2.6 acres at Society Turn for a new facility. 

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