Fountain Valley residents decry lack of area hospital
Last updated 8/24/2022 at 9:36am | View PDF
Hospitals can be characterized as the places where most lives begin, and many lives end. And, of course, between those two signature moments, hospitals are there to promote healing and give comfort to the afflicted. They are usually a joint venture involving medical professionals, community leaders, and members of the community itself.
Across America there are many communities with no hospitals. The Security-Widefield-Fountain area is one of them.
Two hospitals are the subject of a lot of conversation in the Fountain Valley area these days-one, a possible "civilian" hospital for this heavily-populated area, and the other, a possible VA hospital that could be located anywhere in the Colorado Springs area, including in Fountain.
First, the "civilian" hospital. There has been a lot of talk among residents about the need for a "regular" hospital in this area.
"So many of us are not military, and it would be wonderful to have an accessible hospital in our area," Fountain residents Al and Deb Farkas recently wrote in a letter to this newspaper.
Currently there are several limited-use facilities in Fountain: the standalone UCHealth Emergency Room near Walgreens at the corner of Fountain Mesa Road and Mesa Ridge Parkway; a Centura Urgent Care near Safeway, a QuikCareMD urgent care near Janitell Junior High; and a handful of physicians and small clinics in the area.
Additionally, Fountain Valley News had an article on June 8 of this year outlining UCHealth's just-announced plans to add several new facilities in Fountain in the next 12 to 18 months: Primary care (family medicine), OB-Gyn, imaging (x-rays, ct scan, etc.), and mammography. The announcement was made by Joel Yuhas, the president and CEO of UCHealth's southern Colorado region. Yuhas also said other services may also be provided. The company has not yet announced the specific location for this development.
Before the UCHealth plans to build were announced through this paper on June 8, we interviewed Fountain Mayor Sharon Thompson and Fountain City Manager Scott Trainor to see what the city has done to attract a full-fledged hospital. At a later date, we also interviewed El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr., who represents the Fountain Valley area. We also chatted with Fountain community activist Liz Rosenbaum.
Thompson said that for several years, hospitals in Colorado Springs said that a lot of the demand for hospital services coming from Security-Widefield-Fountain was taken care of by Evans Army Community Hospital (EACH) on Fort Carson or the VA health system since so many of this area's residents are either active-duty, retired, or veterans.
Thompson said in the past that argument made some sense, but that now, "I don't think that's necessarily true. Especially with a lot of the growth that's on our doorstep. A few years ago, we didn't even have an urgent care. Now, we have two urgent cares and a free-standing ER. So that is progress that's showing that we do have these needs."
She said there are no hospitals anywhere from Platte Avenue south to Fountain.
"It's not just the 40,000 people in Fountain, or the 120,000 in the Fountain Valley," she said. "The population is bigger. The conversation needs to be bigger, and I'm talking to them (hospitals) about 'let's not be stuck on the zip code this goes in.'"
Thompson said if a hospital goes into the southeastern quadrant of Colorado Springs or into ZIP codes 80925 (east of Security and Fountain), 80911 or 80817, it "is going to be better than anything that gets built north."
She said she's willing to work with anyone to get a hospital in the three previously mentioned ZIPs, even though she represents only Fountain.
Thompson also noted that in addition to a hospital, the Fountain area also needs more pharmacies.
"I don't know if you've seen the lines at Walgreens," she said. "It's absolutely ridiculous. And the Walmart pharmacy, I've seen lines there, and at Safeway also. They're just all packed, and as the growth occurs, those things are not keeping up with the growth down here."
Both Thompson and City Manager Trainor indicated that there have been many conversations between themselves, city staffers, health professionals and hospital representatives over the past 6-7 years and that concern with getting a hospital in or near Fountain officially goes back to 2009, when the Fountain City Council identified the need for more medical facilities.
Trainor said it's not just a hospital, but also "when you look at any medical services, doctor-related services, there's just not a lot down here. It's been an issue we've been hearing about. Comments like 'we need more medical professionals.' I moved here in 2007, and finding a doctor-our options were very limited, unless we wanted to drive north. So, that's a challenge too."
Both Thompson and Trainor said they and city staffers have had many conversations with upper-level management from hospitals in the area, and that they even went so far as to contact the hospitals in Pueblo to see if they had any interest in building in the Fountain area. None did.
The closest hospital to this area in Pueblo is Parkview Hospital, on Pueblo's near-north side, which is about a 25-minute drive from downtown Fountain. Some residents may opt to drive south instead of into Colorado Springs.
Trainor commented that "our current strategic plan is to encourage expansion of the city's retail sector, focus on grocery and medical amenities. The plan says no later than June 2023, the EDC director will present options to the city council and the public" to further those goals.
With regard to a non-military hospital in the Fountain area, community activist Liz Rosenbaum said she has presented statistics and information about Fountain to the NHIS (designed by the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) – the government agency tasked to monitor the population's health status and behavior) and their membership was "shocked" that a city the size of Fountain did not have a hospital.
Rosenbaum says it's particularly disturbing that Fountain has no hospital since it does have a very serious drinking water contamination problem. There currently is a University of Colorado investigative/research team in Fountain (CO Scope at 320 S. Santa Fe, Ste. A) gathering lab samples from residents to gauge the extent and effects of the military and industrial-caused water contamination in the area.
She also said there's a "huge disparity with access to health care" between Colorado Springs and the southern part of that city and the Fountain Valley. She says it's "intentional discrimination" and points out that there are seven hospitals north of Platte Avenue and none south of Platte, discounting Evans Army Community Hospital on Fort Carson, since it serves only current and retired military.
Commissioner Gonzalez said that "the county's goal is to make services as accessible as possible." He says the county opened a new WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) center in the southeastern part of Colorado Springs to serve area residents. Also, he noted that about a year-and-a-half ago, the El Paso County Health Department opened a location on the north side of Fountain, in the old K-Mart store at the corner of Hwy. 85-87 and Fontaine Boulevard; and, there is a Peak Vista location in Fountain that also has some county-provided services.
There are "some health access disparities in the southern part of the county, and that it would make sense for some larger health care providers and hospitals to consider (building) a hospital in the southern part of the county," Gonzalez said. "I'd be supportive of that."
After doing the various interviews referenced above, we tried to interview the appropriate executives from UCHealth and Centura Health, both of whom have several hospitals in the area.
UCHealth responded with a 30-minute interview with Yuhas, who said, "Our model is not really to build many more hospitals. We're building primary care, specialty care, and urgent care in communities that are growing." He added that if UCHealth built another hospital in the Fountain Valley area, it would be "eroding the services we offer at Memorial Central, which is the only level-one trauma center and only comprehensive stroke center in southern Colorado."
Centura Health responded with an e-mail that said, "Centura is continuously evaluating opportunities to deliver safe, quality care to new communities in alignment with our strategic aspiration to build a connected system of hospitals delivering compassionate, whole person care across Colorado and western Kansas. In 2022, Centura added St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dodge City, Kansas. In addition, Centura Health is building a third hospital in Colorado Springs, with an expected open date of Summer 2023."
The location of that hospital is off I-25 and Interquest Parkway, on the far north side of Colorado Springs.
Thompson and Trainor said their contacts not only involved getting a regular hospital into this area, but that they also had talked about the possibility of locating a VA hospital here.
Editor's note: Next week we will discuss a new government report that supports possible development of a new VA medical center in the Colorado Springs region.