After months of anticipation and several delayed start dates, St. Vincent Health officially opened  Lake County’s new hospital last week with a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house for the public. At the event, St. Vincent Health CEO Brett Antczak, along with several other local leaders, offered remarks about the future of health care in Lake County.

“Our legacy really began about 142 years ago when three nuns stepped off a stage coach and were greeted by the miners of Leadville, Colorado,” said Antczak at Wednesday’s event. “Building upon their legacy of hard work and dedication to the health and wellbeing of those here in our community, we continue to build upon that effort as we open our new critical access hospital today.”

A crowd of Lake County citizens attended the event, including a noticeable number of Leadville’s senior citizens, who expressed relief to no longer have to travel to Summit County for medical services. Several seniors who toured the new facility last week, many of whom have lived in Leadville for several decades, said the opening of the hospital will make accessing health care far easier than in the past.

St. Vincent Health’s (SVH) new hospital, which spans 26,500 square feet, introduces a number of new services that were previously not offered in Lake County, including surgical and specialty services like cardiology, general surgery, colonoscopies, ophthalmology, cataract treatment, orthopedics and dermatology.

According to SVH Operations Room Director David Sakariassen, the facilities 660-square-foot surgery unit is state of the art with equipment that is tailored for operations at high altitude. SVH has visiting specialty providers and surgeons from a variety of hospitals in Eagle and Summit counties as well as the Front Range who are set to treat patients in Leadville. For example, Dr. Barry Hammaker and Dr. Zach Hartman of Vail Health Surgical Services will perform general surgeries and colonoscopies in Leadville.

In addition to new surgical and specialty services, the new hospital also has expanded emergency service capabilities. The two single-patient trauma bays are four times larger than the previous hospital’s and are staffed by board certified emergency physicians from CarePoint Health. SVH’s emergency services department also has a safe room for patients in crisis, as well as a negative pressure isolation room for respiratory illnesses.

The new hospital also introduces updated imaging services, including a new digital X-Ray machine and suite and an upgraded CT Scan machine.

With a price tag of more than $26 million dollars, a majority of the hospital was paid for through a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan. According to a press release issued by SVH, the hospital plans to pay back the loan over the next 35 years with a $1.6 million payment annually. The remainder of the financing came from private sources, including a $4 million loan from Colliers Mortgage. Interest rates for the combined loans will range from 2.5 to 2.75 percent, although SVH Chief Branding Officer Karen Onderdonk said the private loan interest rate has not yet been finalized.

“We have to stay ahead of the curve,” said Antczak in addressing the facility’s cost. “This community is growing every day, and this hospital was built with growth in mind. No matter what Lake County looks like years from now, we will still have the resources to offer high quality health care for visitors and residents.”

Antczak added that the hospital’s price tag reflects SVH’s dedication to “health care hospitality.” The facility’s inpatient rooms are large with modern beds, high thread count sheets, 55-inch televisions and views of surrounding mountain ranges. Additionally, a expansive collection of art and photographs by local creators lines the hallway and lobby walls.

Despite these nods to “health care hospitality,” several Lake County seniors who attended the open house said they’d like to see a continuation of home health and hospice services at the new hospital. During Aleta Bezzic’s speech at the grand opening, the SVH Board of Directors chair said home health and hospice services are set to resume in early 2022. Also mentioned in SVH’s facility master plan are inpatient detox services, an addiction recovery unit and an extended care unit.

“I’m immensely proud of what we have done here,” said Antczak. “At a time when rural critical access hospitals are failing, we were able to open a brand new facility that the citizens of Lake County deserve. We may not be the biggest hospital, but  we have the biggest heart.”

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