Health Care & Insurance  January 31, 2022

Centura Health’s Avista plans new hospital at Redtail Ridge

Editor’s note: This article has been clarified to reflect that if voters reject the current Redtail Ridge development plan, a hospital could be included in a subsequent plan. However, subsequent reporting has shown that representatives of developer Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC do not plan to submit a new development plan in the event of a no vote.

LOUISVILLE — Centura Health’s Avista Adventist Hospital, which closed for 19 days in the wake of the Marshall Fire, plans to build a new hospital in the Redtail Ridge development along U.S. Highway 36 — if they’re permitted to do so.

Sources knowledgeable about the transaction confirmed to BizWest that the hospital, currently located at 100 Health Park Drive, has contracted with Redtail Ridge developer Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC to purchase 40 to 50 acres in the 475-acre development as part of plans to relocate.

Officials from Avista and Brue Baukol did not respond to requests for comment.

Redtail Ridge is located just southeast of Avista. Details about the planned facility remain scant, including square footage and the number of beds that are planned, and sources said some of those details have not been finalized. Avista is licensed for 114 beds at its current, 200,000-square-foot location.

Avista’s move would come three decades after Boulder Memorial Hospital sold its Mapleton Avenue facility to Boulder Community Hospital and relocated to Louisville as the rebranded Avista.

Plans to relocate again to Redtail Ridge predated the Marshall Fire that devastated parts of Louisville, Superior and unincorporated Boulder County, sources said — with the property going under contract in early December — and hinge on a scheduled April 19 referendum through which voters will decide whether to approve the current general development plan for the site.

If voters reject the current general development plan, developers could choose to include a hospital in a subsequent revision.

Access, expansion issues

The pending vote comes as Avista struggles under pressures from the COVID-19 pandemic, an inability to expand and access problems with the current facility — problems highlighted by the hospital’s vulnerability during the Marshall Fire.

While the hospital did not burn during the fire, 51 patients and 100 staff members were evacuated. The fire reached within four feet of oxygen tanks on the facility’s west side, with workers battling the flames to prevent a catastrophic explosion.

Avista remained closed for 19 days, reopening Jan. 18 after extensive cleaning and repairs. Visitors to the hospital can still see charred vegetation along the hospital’s periphery.

Jeff Lipton, a former Louisville city council member who voted last year to approve the Redtail Ridge development plan — soon to be reconsidered by voters —  said evacuation during the Marshall Fire would have been far more difficult had nearby Monarch High School been in session.

“It became apparent to me that we were extremely fortunate that the Monarch campus was closed that day because the additional burden of trying to evacuate students, staff and teachers from that campus with a single-lane road, going into only a two-lane road, in combination with the hospital and everything else would have been extremely challenging, and I think a pretty dangerous situation,” Lipton said.

Avista has long complained about poor access to the current location; the site is accessed only by Health Park Drive, which dead-ends at the hospital. Over the years, the hospital has been unsuccessful in securing a new interchange off of U.S. Highway 36. Poor access adds to the time required to reach the facility, making it difficult to attract new patients.

Emergency-room visits lag those of neighboring hospitals, for example. A Colorado Hospital Utilization Report prepared by the Colorado Hospital Association shows that Avista — a Level III trauma center — recorded just 8,600 emergency-room visits in 2020, less than a third the number recorded at SCL Health’s Good Samaritan Medical Center in Lafayette, at 28,257, and Boulder Community Health, at 30,022. Boulder Community and Good Samaritan are Level II trauma centers.

But even UCHealth Broomfield Hospital, which has 40 beds compared with Avista’s 114, recorded 6,596 ER visits, even though it is not designated as a trauma center.

Lipton said Avista’s access issues are shared by Centennial Peaks Hospital, a mental-health facility located adjacent to Avista, and by a nearby memory-care facility and Monarch High School.

“I think all of that, in combination, have very important needs for access, on a continuing basis, not just in the event of an emergency or emergency care, or in the event of an emergency like a fire,” he said.

“It’s a very difficult situation, even outside of an emergency, because of the traffic volumes, particularly the peak hours related to the K-12 campus, on top of that, the people who are trying to access the hospital. It goes way beyond just the ER care,” Lipton said.

Locating at Redtail Ridge would offer improved access for Avista, sources said, given the development’s position along U.S. Highway 36, Northwest Parkway and South 96th Street.

Additionally, Avista’s current, landlocked location does not offer opportunities to expand, sources said, with the community missing out on potential new services because the hospital has no room to grow.

Other area hospitals, for example, have added cancer centers over the years, including Boulder Community Health and Good Samaritan Medical Center.

Lipton said that Avista has been “a tremendous asset” for Louisville since opening in 1990 but needs to expand in order to meet community needs.

“It would be terrible to lose that, and actually it would be great if they could expand into a more contemporary facility that gives them the opportunity to get the economies of scale that are necessary in health care today, be able to invest in the technology and get the best docs and professionals,” he said. ”I think this could be a great thing for the community, and not just us, but the surrounding communities that also will access that hospital.

“They offer tremendous care,” he added. “They care about the patients. They care about the community. They have grown with the community, and their customer base is continuing to grow, and they need to, I believe, be able to adapt and expand as necessary to be supportive of that.”

A new hospital at Redtail Ridge would provide Avista with a far larger market service area, putting it closer to a wider population base, sources said.

A site plan shows the Redtail Ridge development in Louisville. Courtesy Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC

Redtail Ridge controversy

The Louisville City Council approved the general development plan for Redtail Ridge in September on a 4-3 vote, capping overall development at 3 million square feet and placing a series of other conditions on approval of the plans, including 13 requirements for environmental measures, including increased public-land dedications, a minimum of three megawatts of solar power on site, requirement for Leed Silver rating on buildings of more than 10,000 square feet and more.

But plans for the land once owned by ConocoPhillips and that once housed the headquarters for Storage Technology Corp. remained controversial, and a petition drive against the City Council’s decision garnered more than 700 signatures, double what was required.

A new city council revisited the earlier decision, with a Dec. 6 vote to repeal the approval passing at first reading on a 4-3 vote.

But the measure failed Dec. 21 on second reading, with Councilmember Chris Leh changing his vote. Per provisions of the November referendum, the matter will now go before the voters, with the City Council designating April 19 as the date for the referendum.

It’s unclear whether Avista’s desire to relocate will sway voters to support the Redtail Ridge plan. If voters reject the development plan, which allows a hospital use, zoning would revert to the ConocoPhillips plan, which does not allow a hospital.

Louisville mayor Ashley Stolzmann said she has not spoken with Avista about its plans for Redtail Ridge, and she’s unsure how the news will impact voters’ decision.

“I really don’t have a good feel for that,” she said. “I’m very interested to see what the voters think about the proposal. There are so many factors, it’s really hard to know how people will weigh this particular factor.”

Stolzmann said her opposition to the Redtail Ridge development plan stemmed mainly from concerns about transportation.

“The development plan had to get weighed against specific criteria, and some of the things I listed that were problematic with it are issues with transportation, like access to the site — they’re not issues that are dependent on that particular [hospital] use. They are issues with actual successful redevelopment of the site,” she said.

Stolzmann said hospitals in general should be located near transit stops, with proximity to the Regional Transportation District’s McCaslin Park-n-Ride her preference. That site is northwest of the current Avista campus.

“In the Denver region, we have a goal of having hospitals within basically a quarter-mile of a transit stop,” she said. “Closer is better so that people of all abilities have access to hospital care, even if they can’t drive or don’t have a car. So the best place in our town for that would be over at the McCaslin Park-n-Ride. If we could get a hospital there, that would really solve some regional issues about transportation and hospitals.”

Stolzmann said that since the Marshall Fire, Avista and its CEO, Isaac Sendros, have “shown a real commitment to the community. They’re a wonderful partner in the community, so I do wish the very best for them.”

What becomes of the current facility?

It’s not yet known what might become of the current Avista campus.

“It’s hard to say,” Lipton said. He noted that the city of Boulder has spent years determining what to do with the former Boulder Community Health campus on north Broadway, which the city bought in December 2015.

“It takes a long time to figure out what the best use is for the community, and if government decides to buy the property and reprogram it to meet its needs,” he said. “I don’t think that there’s been, that I’m aware of, any real discussion about what is Plan B with the Avista property.”

Lipton noted that Louisville is embarking on a revision to its comprehensive plan, a process that could encompass a revisioning of the current Avista property.

“I would expect that this property, in trying to decide what is the best use for the community but also that the property owners would probably be part of that comprehensive-plan update process,” he said.

Christopher Wood
Christopher Wood is editor and publisher of BizWest, a regional business journal covering Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. Wood co-founded the Northern Colorado Business Report in 1995 and served as publisher of the Boulder County Business Report until the two publications were merged to form BizWest in 2014. From 1990 to 1995, Wood served as reporter and managing editor of the Denver Business Journal. He is a Marine Corps veteran and a graduate of the University of Colorado Boulder. He has won numerous awards from the Colorado Press Association, Society of Professional Journalists and the Alliance of Area Business Publishers.
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