TELLURIDE – After months of tense discourse regarding a location for a new Telluride Medical Center, the Telluride Hospital District has announced it will host a public forum to discuss proposals for a new site on Aug. 12 at the Sheridan Opera House.
Conspicuously absent from that discussion will be consideration of the RV lot on Mahoney Drive in Telluride, a site that won a crucial rezoning by voters in November 2013, largely at the behest of the Telluride Hospital District, so that a public facility, like a medical center, could be allowed on the site. But as the district’s site selection process has unfolded since the election, Telluride declined to submit a Request for Information issued by the Hospital District, because, the town said, its approvals and political processes didn’t align with the district’s process.
Now, faced with the prospect that the Telluride site will not be considered for the new clinic, the Telluride Town Council is in the stages of planning a worksession on August 13 for the purpose of determining the highest and best use for the RV lot. Hopes that it might still be home to the new medical center are likely to be expressed.
Council’s decision to reopen and continue the discussion of using the RV lot for the new medical center was spurred in part by comments made by local physician and director of Telluride Medical Center’s Emergency Services, Diana Koelliker, at council’s July 15 meeting.
“I am very disappointed in the decision of the council not to engage in the [Request For Information] process that would have included the RV lot for consideration for the site of the new medical center,” Koelliker told council.
In a recent interview, Telluride Mayor Stu Fraser expressed his desire to keep the medical center in Telluride, and cited the inability of the town and the Hospital District to reconcile their processes as the underlying cause of Telluride’s difficulty in securing the medical center.
Council’s worksession coming the day after the Hospital District’s public forum will not be exclusively about the medical center. Fraser emphasized in the interview that the top priority of council with regard to the RV lot is not only its potential as a site for the medical center, but to determine the most appropriate use of the lot, be it the the medical center, a rec center or affordable housing units.
“Ultimately my hope is we will still be considered for the medical center,” Fraser said, “and the Hospital District still wants the medical center in town so I expect they’ll be involved, but our focus is to find the highest and best use for the RV lot.”
The process of finding a new location for the Telluride Medical Center began in 2006 when the Hospital District Board of Directors began actively pursuing options for a new facility.
The Telluride site identified by the district as a possible location for a new medical center, the town-owned RV lot on Mahoney Drive, joined the list of viable options after Proposition 2D handily passed last year.
In March, the district issued a Request For Information to regional landowners with viable sites and their corresponding governing jurisdictions. Those viable sites included the RV lot in Telluride, two separate lots at Lawson Hill and two separate lots in Mountain Village.
According to Hospital District Board President Larry Mallard, as part of district’s transparency efforts and to ensure landowners understood and endorsed the RFI process, a briefing was held for landowners on March 3, before the formal RFI was issued.
The district then met with landowners on June 16 to again allow for feedback or objections on the process. Mallard also met with the Telluride Town Council at a June meeting to address any concerns or objections they may have had as a group. Telluride ultimately did not submit a response to the RFI but instead submitted a letter stating it could not adhere to the hospital district’s timeline because it didn’t permit meaningful community discussion on the use of the RV lot.
In response, Mallard said in a statement, “We’re moving forward with the process of evaluating the site submissions according to the timeline we set out in February. We are disappointed that the Town of Telluride didn’t take the opportunity to object to the process at any of our earlier meetings.”
During the July 15 council meeting, Councilor Bob Saunders defended his and council’s position that the crux of the problem was the June 23 deadline the Town of Telluride was given to make the final decision as to whether the medical center should occupy the RV lot.
“We did do our job for the community,” Saunders argued. “The public voted to assign the RV for public purpose and we haven’t yet determined what that purpose is. For the Hospital District to put that deadline on us is what put us in this situation where we are out of the running for the medical center.”
At the July 15 meeting, town attorney Kevin Geiger explained that “the RFI process is objectionable because of the commitment it required to determine exactly what that lot would be used for in such a short period of time.”
In his statement, Mallard said that the town didn’t raise objections to the timeline when given the opportunity. “[For Telluride] to wait until the final minutes before the deadline to object put THD in a difficult position,” he said. “Any objections, including a longer timeline, could have been addressed to accommodate any one of the respondents.”
No More Band-Aids
During the July 15 council meeting, Koelliker said she was speaking not in her capacity as an employee of the medical center, but as a private citizen of Telluride.
“It is within the duties of this council not only to cultivate economic development and to implement an environmental agenda, but also to preserve the community and address critical infrastructure needs,” she said. “Maintaining the medical center would address several of these items and I don’t understand how not participating in the RFI process is doing your job as Town Council.”
What she found most troublesome, she said, was the lack of any sense of urgency from council on the issue of the medical center.
“If there is a higher and better use for the RV lot, it is the council’s job to determine that use rather than simply declining to participate in the discussion,” she said. And she argued that the clinic should be in town because that is where the most of the patients originate.
“In the present and in the foreseeable future, Telluride will have the highest concentration of people living here year-round,” she said, “And in the last year over 50 percent of EMS calls were Station 1 calls, originating in Telluride. We do a good job in our current location but we are using every inch of our small, dilapidated building. We need more to meet the current and future needs of this community. We are done with putting band-aids on this old building and we need to move forward. Do your job and engage in the process of getting us a new one.”
Fraser responded to Koelliker emphasizing he and the rest of council want the medical center to stay in Telluride.
“Everyone on council wants to keep the medical center. There is no lack of desire to have the med center in town. In fact, there is a burning desire to keep it here … we just couldn’t work through what the hospital district put in front of us,” he said.
“When we looked at RFI,” he added, “we saw something that required our signatures and decisions, when we have boards and commissions that make those decisions. For council to sit down and make those decisions did not seem appropriate and it caused angst. We didn’t fit into your process so we said ‘we can’t make that work.’”
In sum, he concluded, “We could not have responded to the RFI because it would have looked like we had made up our mind in private that we wanted the medical center to go there.”
Saunders added that the issues surrounding the use of the RV lot are not limited to whether or not the medical center will or will not go there.
“If we want to move forward,” he stated, “We need to have a discussion about the best use for the RV lot. The discussion for this council and voters is not limited to whether the medical center should go in that lot, but what should go in that lot.”
The Hospital District’s forum will provide the community with an opportunity for public comment and a review of site proposals from Mountain Village, the Lawson Hill Property Owners Association and Big Dog Holdings, LLC in Lawson Hill.
According to Fraser, the forum will be “totally separate” from the council worksession the next day, which will provide the public with an equal opportunity to comment on the possibility of keeping the medical center in town and whether the RV lot would be best used in that way.
The RFI responses received by the June 23 deadline were summarized and presented to a Community Advisory Committee made up of regional residents earlier this month.
The committee of community members with experience in architecture, engineering and construction and selected by the Hospital District has been asked to evaluate the proposals and provide feedback on site suitability, cost, fundraising, future growth and risk.
Ultimately the committee will provide a recommendation to the Hospital District Board for the best site for the region’s future medical center. The board will consider the committee’s recommendation along with the recommendation from Frauenshuh Consulting, a medical site selection-consulting firm based in Minneapolis.