Health Care & Insurance  May 3, 2024

New leader at Avista

Louisville hospital has a new leader. Is a new building next?

LOUISVILLE — At some jobs new employees are blessed with a transitional grace period that allows them to slowly dip their toes into the water.

That hasn’t exactly been the case for AdventHealth Avista’s new CEO Mark Smith, who dove head first into leadership of the Louisville hospital last month just as plans to build a new facility a few miles southeast are gaining momentum. “We envision this as a flagship for our region,” Smith said of the planned new hospital, which is expected to be built on a 40-acre site at the interchange of U.S. Highway 36 and the Northwest Parkway within the yet-to-break ground Redtail Ridge development.

Smith, a nearly two-decade health care industry veteran who led previous professional lives as an accountant and an attorney, joins AdventHealth, a Florida-based nonprofit hospital system affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist church, from a leadership role with MultiCare Health system in the Seattle area. 

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“I’m particularly excited that I’m coming home to the Denver market and Colorado region because I lived (in Littleton) growing up,” Smith told BizWest. “… It’s a return to the homeland in many ways, and I still have family here — my brother and his family live here in the region.” Smith said his two children “are very excited to be in the same state as their cousins.”

In the 2010s, Smith worked at Kettering Health, another Seventh-day Adventist-affiliated institution, in Ohio, where Brett Spenst, now AdventHealth’s Rocky Mountain regional president and CEO, was his boss. 

He was attracted to the job at Avista — which he took over from Ken Finch, who had served as the hospital’s interim CEO since Isaac Sendros moved to an AdventistHealth hospital in Georgia last year — in part due to “the spiritual care that we’re able to offer to our patients,” Smith said. “…One of the things we talk about with our staff is how wonderful it is to be able to pray with the patients who want us to. We’re very unapologetically about extending the healing ministry of Christ. That’s our purpose for coming to work each day, and that’s very resonant to me.”

Nearly 20 years ago, an executive with the Nebraska Heart Hospital recruited Smith out of his former roles in law and accounting to serve as the hospital’s chief finance officer. “They specifically wanted someone without traditional health care experience,” he said. “They, perhaps, had some less than favorable interactions with some of the heath care administrators in town at that time. I don’t know if that was a wise thought on their part, but it certainly created an opportunity for me.”

Work in health care proved more rewarding than previous professional pursuits, he said. “When we go home at the end of day, we know we’ve done something pretty remarkable, which is to care for someone in their greatest medical need.”

Avista, which, at about 650 employees, is Louisville’s largest employer, “has been at this site (at  100 Health Park Drive) since 1990,” Smith said. “It’s been a wonderful location, and it’s provided a lot of great opportunities to care for the community here. But as we look out over the next five and 10 years, we see our move to Redtail Ridge as being a really key part of the strategy to deliver that care in a next-generation facility that’s newer and has more amenities that we want to provide to our market at a much larger scale.”

Redtail Ridge existing aerial
Developers have had their sights set on building a business park on the roughly 300-acre Redtail Ridge property, which was previously home to a massive Storage Technology Corp. campus, for more than four years. Courtesy Sterling Bay

Redtail Ridge saga

With a unanimous approval in February of a preliminary plat for Redtail Ridge by the Louisville City Council, the years-long effort to turn a large, vacant property off U.S. Highway 36 into a biotechnology and health care mega-campus took a critical step closer to becoming a reality. 

“Since we bought the property in 2022, our vision has always been to have a world-class health and innovation campus, and Avista has always been a huge part of that,” Evan Pesonen, a vice president with Redtail developer Sterling Bay LLC, told BizWest. 

Developers have had their sights set on building a business park on the roughly 300-acre property, which was previously home to a massive Storage Technology Corp. campus, for more than four years, but the Louisville entitlements and approvals process proved to be a gauntlet. 

Concerns from residents — mostly centering around flattening of the site, traffic, the size and location of public spaces, sustainability and economic viability — nagged Redtail Ridge for years, culminating in a April 2022 special election in which Louisville voters repealed a previous approval of the project by city officials.

AdventHealth emerged as an important power player late in the approvals process when Dan Enderson, a regional executive with the hospital system, told city officials in February that he couldn’t guarantee that Avista would remain in Louisville if the Redtail project continued to languish in regulatory purgatory. 

“We can’t wait any longer,” he told Louisville leaders. “… “We had hoped to be well under construction by now.” The preliminary plat approval came soon after.  “That was a big milestone,” Smith said. 

Denver developer Brue Baukol Capital Partners LLC bought the Redtail property from Phillips 66 (NYSE: PSX) in 2020 for $34.93 million. As part of a July 2022 real estate transaction conducted by a series of holding companies, Sterling Bay acquired the property from Brue Baukol for just under $128 million, Boulder County warranty deeds show. Brue Baukol remains a minority partner in the development. 

When Sterling Bay entered the picture, the developer added plans for spaces aimed at biotechnology tenants, a red-hot subsector of the Boulder Valley commercial real estate scene in recent years. 

Sterling Bay intends to offer a variety of life-sciences-centric spaces at Redtail, from flex-industrial to manufacturing to research and development labs, Pesonen said. “We’re still determining what we’re going to come out of the ground with and deliver (on a speculative basis), but the beauty is that we have the ability to pivot and cater to whatever the tenants need.”

The development team has “been speaking with a number of very large, well-known companies in the life-sciences industry,” to take over space at Redtail, Pesonen said. Sterling Bay is “in discussions” with potential tenants, who he declined to name, “and those conversations are going really well.” Those discussions are likely to result in deals after Sterling Bay secures all of the requisite approvals to break ground at Redtail Ridge. The developer expects to bring the final plat before the Louisville City Council in June or July.

Plans for the new Avista hospital take shape

Should the Redtail team win the go-ahead from Louisville officials, Avista will finalize its land purchase on the site and begin planning in earnest for a new hospital there. 

Hospital leaders have long said that Avista suffers from accessibility issues. At the current site “there is only one way in and one way out,” Smith said. The Marshall Fire “was a key point” that highlighted the hospital’s accessibility challenges.

“In health care, access is key,” he said. “From that location in Redtail Ridge, our assessment is that there are roughly an additional 300,000 people who live within a 17-minute driving radius.”

A newer and larger hospital — expected to roughly double Avista’s 114-bed capacity — will not only allow Avista to serve more patients, Smith said, but it will also allow the hospital to expand and add to the types of services it offers. 

“We anticipate adding services like cancer care. We want to expand our ability to care for cardiac patients in our community. We intend to enhance the (neonatal intensive care unit) to include private rooms in order to take care of more high-risk pregnancies. We have a new spine program that we are going to continue to grow, while also doing more services around pain, neurology and gastrointestinal. We do many of those now, but we’d like to support and expand their capacity for growth.”

The new hospital will also expand Avista’s ability to provide primary care and outpatient services, Smith said.

Precisely what the new Avista could look like and when it will be completed remain open questions, but Smith said that it typically “takes about three to three-and-a-half years to build a hospital.” AdventHealth expects to begin solidifying its next steps after the Redtail Ridge final plat is approved.

“Sooner is better, but we want to be thoughtful in how we create a hospital,” Smith said. “Creating a new hospital is rare … and it’s a fantastic opportunity to vision the care that a community might need right now” and decades into the future. 

See related stories.

Redtail Ridge plans re-emerge, Avista relocation still planned

Potential Avista move ratchets up pressure on Louisville leaders

At some jobs new employees are blessed with a transitional grace period that allows them to slowly dip their toes into the water. That hasn’t exactly been the case for AdventHealth Avista’s new CEO Mark Smith,

Lucas High
A Maryland native, Lucas has worked at news agencies from Wyoming to South Carolina before putting roots down in Colorado.
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