Hospitals, clinics looking to expand as rapidly as Colorado's population is growing

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DENVER – We live in a state where the number of new hospital beds added in the past few years has fallen short of the growing need and where a growing number of people, especially young people, find themselves unable to afford primary health care.

The Inner City Health Center has been serving the metro area's "under insured" population for 35 years.  The "under insured" includes those who don't have insurance as well as those with premiums and deductibles so high they can't afford primary care.

“We try our best to reduce barriers to accessing high quality health care,” said Inner City Health CEO Kraig Burleson.

The clinic sees about 20,000 dental and medical patients every year, and as Colorado grows, so does the need for the Health Center’s services. The biggest number of patients they are seeing are in their 20s and 30s who work multiple jobs in the service industry and are finding it hard to pay their rent, much less medical expenses.

“Really they qualify as being poor or no income earners,” Burleson said. “But in that age group they don't see themselves as poor, they see themselves as being broke.”

To keep up with the increased need, Inner City Health is now in the middle of a campaign to fund an expansion that would help them add additional medical, dental and behavioral health services.

”We're trying to grow our facility and elevate the quality of the care we provide in addition to accommodating the increased number of people coming to us for care,” Burleson added.

The Colorado Hospital Association tracks the trends in the health care industry that are leading health care providers to expand.

“Population growth has been a big driver within Colorado and we've seen hospitals have to adapt over the last five to ten years,” Executive Vice President Chris Tholen said.

He says the three biggest factors driving Colorado’s hospital growth are:

  • Population growth
  • The Medicaid expansion four years ago
  • Tourism

“We're seeing more visitors that have accidents and sickness while they are on vacation,” Tholen explained.

In the last decade, 17 new hospitals have opened up in Colorado, increasing the number available beds by 4 percent. However, the need for those beds has increased more than 6 percent in that same time period.

“We're seeing more and more hospitals reach capacity at different points in time,” Tholen explained.

Most of the hospitals that have opened up in Colorado in the last decade have been in the corridor from Castle Rock north to Loveland and there are still more to come, like the new UCHealth hospital in Greeley. Hospital president Marilyn Schock says the decision to build in Greeley was easy.

“About a quarter of our business over at MCR, Medical Center of the Rockies in Loveland, and Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins are Greeley and Weld County residents,” Schock said. “And we are hitting some capacities at those hospitals.”

UCHeath Greeley is expected to open up to patients sometime in the first half of 2019 and it likely won’t be last new or updated facility in Northern Colorado. UCHealth’s Long Peak Hospital in Longmont last year and Banner Health Medical Center in Fort Collins is adding more services to their hospital, most recently partnering with the MD Anderson Cancer Center to expand their service.

“I think as we become more populated, roads are busier, people want to stay closer to home,” Schock said. “Accessibility in their hometown is really important.”

While getting care near their home may be important to patients, providers say what's important to them is making sure everyone who needs it gets it regardless of where they are or their ability to pay.  

“This is an important opportunity for us to increase that knowledge and let people know we're here and we're ready to serve them,” Inner City’s Burleson said.

Inner City Health Center’s annual Jazzed fundraiser featuring Denver’s own Hazel Miller and other musicians is Friday, October 19. Tickets are available online.

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