Trinidad’s Mount San Rafael Hospital (MSRH) began construction on an addition to their facilities back in 2019 and recently The Chronicle-News had an opportunity to catch up with MSRH CEO John Tucker and PIO Kim Lucero on current progress on the new space that could be ready by the end of 2020 or beginning of 2021.

“We don’t have a super firm date,” said Tucker, “but worst case scenario would be after the first of the year. I’m optimistic that we’re going to be able to beat that by quite a bit.”

Lucero explained the background about how they had applied and were awarded a loan for $27 million from the USDA to build the much needed modernized and expanded facilities with a lower interest rate that made it more affordable for a rural hospital. Another $7 million was borrowed from a private lender. Those funds were given in $5 million batches, Tucker explained, and the last piece was about $2 million that the hospital just received from the USDA.

Additionally, the USDA provided a $50,000 grant to MSRH that wouldn’t have to be paid back.

The new space itself boasts a 14-bed medical and surgical unit, a new Emergency Department (ED) with 10 treatments spaces, a central utilities plant, and new monitoring equipment for the ED. Right now, Project Engineer Tim Gurule for GH Phipps, the contractors in charge of the construction, said that their team was in the process of trimming out and finishing up the space. The construction company boasts quite a bit of experience in building hospitals across the state.

“Once you’ve worked on hospital projects, they’re really all kind of the same,” said Gurule. “There’s a lot more that goes into building a hospital though than any other building. Definitely the most challenging build I think. Phipps has their own healthcare division that specializes in healthcare facility projects.”

With drop ceiling tiles starting to go in, but still much of the space above them exposed, one quickly sees why hospital construction runs around $600 to $700 a square foot. Pipes for water and gas like oxygen along with what seemed to be miles of wires and interesting looking devices tucked in between made for an impressive display of architecture and engineering design above the ceiling’s grid.

“People sometimes look at this project and think it’s just like building a big house,” said Tucker. “Then you look above the grid and realize that’s not the case. There’s all sorts of stuff going to every room and you can see why it’s a six or seven hundred dollar per square foot project and not a house.”

One thing Tucker said they wished they could’ve changed was the location of the hospital, but being that a complete rebuild of all their facilities would have been significantly more than the roughly $35 million this project cost, it wasn’t really an option.

“We really would have liked to replace the hospital and relocate it a little closer to downtown nearer the interstate,” said Tucker. “We’re kind of on the top of a hill in a residential area. It’s not a fabulous location for a hospital. But it was just going to be so enormously costly not only to replace the entire hospital but all of the physician clinic buildings and would have probably been an $80 or $90 million project. We just didn’t think that was a responsible thing for us to be doing in this community.”

Still, the new facilities being mostly new patient spaces, the community will ultimately see a new hospital, just in the same location.

As the currently inhabited facilities were opened in 1972, Lucero explained that the technology and utilities within the new walls would be much more extensive that those required back in the 70s.

Another great feature of the design was the new ambulance bay for the ED. In the current building, the general patient entrance and ambulance drop off is the same space and small.

“We had an architect that was really creative,” said Tucker. “We wanted to create a canopy for the ambulance to come and drop patients off, so he had the second floor kind of overhang the first floor to create its own ambulance canopy. They’ll be able to easily get in, drop patients off, and exit.”

MSRH also acquired new MRI equipment recently and because of a lack of space in the old space it was all put in a trailer facility just outside the hospital. The new space will feature it’s own spacious MRI division and the equipment, weighing approximately 25,000 pounds will soon be hoisted into place as the contractors wrap up the finishing touches.

Tucker also explained that they see the new space replacing a majority of the existing patient care spaces in the hospital.

“Lab and pharmacy along with some other support services will not be new,” said Tucker, “but really most of the places the patients will go will be like a new hospital and that’s what our priority is.”

There’s also a goal of including oncology within the new space so that chemo patients wouldn’t have to drive up to Pueblo for treatments.

With 14 patient rooms on the second floor, every room had a big window overlooking the town or mountain range depending on what side of the building you were on. The new rooms for hospitalized patients were also considerably larger than those in the old space on the first floor of the hospital and much more efficient.

“The new patient rooms are probably about 70 percent bigger than our current patient rooms,” said Tucker. “We also put sliding doors on all the bathrooms because you can imagine having a three and a half foot required door, if it swung open how much space that would take up.”

Though COVID-19 difficulties have slowed the project down slightly with contractors currently waiting on cabinetry to be delivered, the pandemic did bring it’s share of good news.

“We initially planed for the USDA portion of that loan [$27 million] to be about 3.6 percent, which is a really competitive rate,” said Tucker. “But with all the economic crises of the last nine months or so, it looks like we’re going to be able to close that loan at 2.25 percent, which is an enormous savings when you talk about a $27 million dollar loan. We think just the reduction of interest will probably end up saving us about a half a million dollars a year.”

Tucker and Lucero also said that once they have a finalized occupancy date, they would like to do a grand opening to allow people to see the impressive facilities, but with restrictions and difficulties surrounding social distancing, they were unsure as of yet how that would be done. But once plans were in place, they would be sure to get the word out to the community.

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