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A roofer works atop the front entrance to Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center

By Tony Kindelspire
The Daily Times-Call

LAFAYETTE — The foundation for the Exempla Good Samaritan Medical Center may have been poured less than two years ago, but the foundation of the idea dates back to 1999, when executives at Exempla Healthcare decided something needed to be done to meet a growing demand.

“We were in a difficult position of turning patients away,” said David Hamm, president and CEO of Boulder County’s newest hospital. “We were on ‘divert.’”

Hamm was with Saint Joseph Hospital in 1998, the year it merged with Lutheran Medical Center to form Exempla Healthcare, a not-for-profit medical group.

Neither Saint Joseph, a 130-year-old facility near downtown Denver, nor Lutheran, a 99-year-old hospital in Wheat Ridge, had the capacity for the expansion that Exempla desired, so it was time to look for some land.

At the time, two large metro-area projects were already in the works: HealthOne was planning Sky Ridge Medical Center in Lone Tree, and Centura Health had Parker Adventist Hospital in Parker. The search turned north.

And that made sense: Hamm said Exempla officials took note of a study done in the late ’90s by the Colorado Hospital Association that showed 50 percent of the people in Boulder, Broomfield and northern Adams counties were traveling south of Interstate 70 for portions of their medical care.

Exempla would need a sizable chunk of land, easy access to major thoroughfares and enough of a population base to support a new hospital. It found what it was looking for in Lafayette, at the intersection of Colo. Highway 42 and U.S. Highway 287, about a mile north of the Northwest Parkway.

“We wanted to make sure we found a location that would welcome us, where the city fathers would welcome us and help us work through the issues,” Hamm said.

Ground was broken on the 80-acre site in August 2002, and the five-story, 174-bed, $175 million hospital and its accompanying buildings are expected to open before the end of this year. The site has been master-planned and leaves room for expansion in the future.

Exempla will be the largest employer in Lafayette. It initially will employ 500, but by early next year, 600 to 700 people will work there, Hamm said.

The ripple effects from the hospital will be huge. Take housing: Hamm moved to the Lafayette area from southern Jefferson County, and he has been and likely will be joined by many others.

The hospital also will act as a magnet drawing other businesses to the area, and not just restaurants and gas stations.

“There’s natural synergies with physicians’ offices, rehab facilities, nursing homes” and other facilities, Hamm said.

Exempla has a partner in the project itself: Kaiser Permanente’s $30 million Rock Creek Medical Office Building, under construction adjacent to the hospital, will be the largest medical office building that company has ever built.

The agreement echoes a similar partnership between Exempla and Kaiser in Denver.

Dr. Steven Lowenthal, vice president and chief medical officer of Exempla Good Samaritan, came to Lafayette from Baltimore and, prior to that, the Chicago area.

He said hospitals such as his and the two new ones in south metro Denver are part of a nationwide trend, diverting from “the pattern of building the huge meccas downtown.”

It’s also part of a mini-boom in hospital construction, according to the American Hospital Association. In the cover story of its March magazine, the AHA noted that Colorado and five other states in the West and South are where 20 percent of the more than 800 new hospitals in the United States are being built.

“Hospitals built from scratch are unusual” in many areas, Lowenthal said. “The Denver metro area is an anomaly in this country.”

And given the sky-high commercial vacancy rate throughout the metro area, hospital construction is keeping a lot of people working who otherwise might not be. Mortensen and Saunders Construction are the joint contractors for Exempla Good Samaritan.

All of this construction activity — here and elsewhere — has helped lead to the current nursing shortage that is affecting medical facilities nationwide.

“That’s not unique to us or Colorado,” Hamm said, adding that pharmacists, radiologists and technicians also are in short supply. But Exempla is apparently getting strong response from potential staffers.

According to Mary Jackson, communications and marketing manager, much of the hospital’s executive staff has already been brought aboard, and Exempla is currently in the process of hiring clinical staff.

She said about 2,000 applications have been submitted for the 600 to 700 positions.

“Nurses — like physicians — gravitate to the new, improved,” Lowenthal said.

Aside from his excitement about his new “state-of-the-art” workplace, Lowenthal said one of his goals at Exempla Good Samaritan is to instill a “Six Sigma”-like sensibility to the facility’s day-to-day operations.

Six Sigma, a concept that started in manufacturing, is a method of maintaining quality control through a “systems approach.”

“There’s certain conditions where there’s known best practices,” Lowenthal said. “It’s a trend (in hospitals around the country), but not everyone’s doing it.

“It’s an enormous amount of work, but I think the benefits — the patients, the staff, they really love it.”

Tony Kindelspire can be reached at 303-776-2244, Ext. 291, or by e-mail at tkindelspire@times-call.com.