Once Again, Telluride Medical Center Reports Growth and Capacity Issues

The Telluride Medical Center has announced patient visits to the primary care department has grown 36 percent in the last five years, with a growing number of patients traveling from Norwood, Ridgway, Montrose and Delta for expanded services.

Since 2013, patient visits from Ridgway residents has grown 248 percent while visits from Norwood have grown over 100 percent and Delta 130 percent. Montrose residents are also coming to Telluride for healthcare in larger numbers, with the increase from 2013 to 2018 reaching 47 percent.

To accommodate this increased patient demand, the primary care department maintains four providers, five days a week, which, according to Dr. Sharon Grundy, primary care medical director at the medical center, is the maximum of what the clinic can sustain.

Since 1987 there have been nearly a dozen renovations to keep up with complex healthcare technologies and patient growth.

Last May the Telluride Hospital District eked out another 225 square feet by adding a shipping container outside the primary care entrance but, according to administration, serves merely as a bandaid and does little to solve the overall capacity issue.

The “Wellness Annex,” as it is called by staff, allowed the medical center to move the Behavioral Health team from the facility’s basement to a conference room just off of the primary care lobby — “a much more appropriate space for our team to meet with patients,” according to Dr. Grundy.

“We’ve reached the limits of what’s possible. We can’t add more providers without more square footage. And we’re flat out of that,” she said.

The medical center has put a freeze on bringing in new ‘visiting specialists’ — like midwives and orthopedics doctors — who could host clinics to serve the local population.

Paula Scheidegger, who serves as the Primary Care Practice Manager, likened the capacity situation at the medical center to a household plant. “To thrive, a plant needs water, air and sunlight — but also space. You can’t forget about space.”

And yet, staff has still found more ways to see more patients every day.

In 2018 the amount of patients the primary care staff were able to see in a day had grown from roughly 28 patients a day in 2013, to 44, a 57 percent increase.

“We’ve shifted from medical assistants to nurses to better accommodate procedures our patients require. Using Registered Nurses provide a unique set of clinical and management skills, that when used to their fullest potential, enhance the primary are team, patient care and efficiencies,” said Scheidegger.

For over forty years, the Telluride Regional Medical Center has leased a remodeled 1960’s building, on the corner of Pacific Ave., and Townsend St., from Newmont Mining (once Idarado Mining Co.)

The facility is approximately 10,000-square-feet, half the size it should be. An independent report from an architect firm specialized in medical facilities estimates that based on current building and safety codes, the facility should be 20,000-square-feet — and that’s without adding any additional services or accounting for future growth.

“We don’t have an inch to grow,” said John Gardner, CEO of the medical center. We’re maxed out on both the space and the number of staff we can accomodate.

This isn’t the first time the medical center has sounded the SOS on capacity.

Relief could be on the way as the Telluride Hospital District is working closely with a private land development company with holdings in the region to reach a deal to convey 2.6 acres to be used for a new facility at Society Turn.

“There are still so many steps yet to take to secure that new home for our medical center,” said Gardner, “but there’s vision and community support, if not patience.”