Telluride Med Ctr: Interim Clinic, Partnership With Telluride Science & Ah Haa

Support Telluride Med Center’s Covid Response Fund here. To ensure the Depot will remain a safe and functional building for the duration of the medical center’s residency at the interim clinic, (starting 9/1/2020), the Telluride Science Research Center intends to commence efforts on exterior renovations — even before closing on the property. Fundraising for this pressing project is underway. More information on how to support this effort is available at telluridescience.org.

Since March, medical center staff have seen patients with respiratory symptoms outside the building in a tented outdoor clinic. Photo by Melissa Plantz.

With the stream of patients requiring medical attention or tests for coronavirus increasing with each passing week, and with shorter colder days looming — the Telluride Regional Medical Center has forged a partnership with the Ah Haa School for the Arts and Telluride Science Research Center to bridge the shortcomings of the current medical facility.

Presently — and since March — medical center staff see patients with respiratory symptoms outside the building in a tented outdoor clinic or in one of two negative airflow rooms inside the medical center.

“Our approach has been to separate patient populations — those with respiratory symptoms and those without — between two locations to minimize exposure risks to both staff and patients,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, primary care director.

Dr. Sharon Grundy

However, to meet the multiplying demands and the realities of what may lie ahead this fall and winter, the med center turned to their current and future neighbors.

And that’s where things got creative.

Since late 2016, the Board of Directors for Ah Haa have been working to purchase a new home for the art school in the Silver Jack Building on Pacific Ave., a sale set to correspond with the simultaneous sale of their current home, the Rio Grande Southern Railway Depot (commonly known as the Telluride Depot), to the Telluride Science Research Center (Telluride Science).

“When we learned about the predicament the Med Center faces due to the limitations of their facility, we wanted to do everything we could to help,” said Mark Kozak, executive director. “We turned to Ah Haa and found them likewise compelled.”

Dr. Gaylord in a mobile unit the Med Center has on loan from Sheriff Bill Masters.

“It was a total pivot from making every effort to get in and begin the renovation on our long-awaited and highly anticipated permanent home — to making sure that the community and healthcare workers would have a safe place to meet the long-term demands of coronavirus,” said Kozak.

Another example, muses Judy Kohin, executive director of the Ah Haa School, of unprecedented times yielding unprecedented solutions.

“Imagine three disparate non-profits, each with unique missions, goals and facility aspirations, who will nonetheless make every effort to build the response to the pandemic this community deserves,” said Kohin.

And so it is, effective September 1, Ah Haa will move out ahead of schedule from the Telluride Depot (their home since 2007) to lease the space to the Medical Center. Ah Haa will temporarily relocate to the Stone Building on Willow St., home to their sister program, the American Academy of Bookbinding.

“We’re planning for a very robust summer 2021 in our new home in the Silver Jack Building,” said Kohin.

Telluride Science as the pending owners of the Telluride Depot will assume and manage the lease upon the closing of the sale of the building, which is scheduled to be concurrent with the closing of the Ah Haa School’s purchase from the Town of Telluride.

Since 1984, Telluride Science has built a reputation for small interdisciplinary workshops for scientists and engineers. At present the nonprofit hosts about 60 workshops for 1400 global guests each year. Despite the long wait for a permanent home to hold their workshops and conferences, the organization will put their immediate plans on hold.

“Scientists take the long view,” said Cindy Fusting, Managing Director. “We can push out our plans for a bit longer if it means helping our partners at the Medical Center fulfill their critical mission of keeping our community safe.”

Expanding medical services to a nearby building, Dr. Grundy cautions, is only a short term solution to the medical center’s facility woes. The Depot lease is set to expire September 2021, (though it could be extended for up to an additional year if the pandemic persists).

“The Telluride Med Center’s current building is limited, if not failing us in many ways, under even normal circumstances,” said. “That has not changed. Having an interim clinic, especially one only a stone’s throw from the medical center’s Emergency Room and lab, will allow our team to safely and efficiently meet the demands of the community throughout the pandemic while also preserving the medical center as a safe place to maintain non-COVID-19 healthcare services,” added Dr. Grundy.

In recent weeks the need for a longer range plan has been made critical by the substantial increase in visits from patients with respiratory symptoms. Likewise, the number of COVID-19 tests administered has increased from an average of about 20 patients tested weekly to over 150.

Since 1978 the Telluride Regional Medical Center has served the region from a leased residential building on the corner of Townsend and Pacific Ave. The facility is approximately 10,000-square-feet, half the size it should be according to an independent report from an architect firm specialized in medical facilities.

The Telluride Hospital District, the governing body that oversees the Telluride Regional Medical Center, is working closely with a private land development company with holdings in the region to reach a deal to convey approximately 2.6 acres to be used for a new facility at Society Turn. But even under the best of circumstances, a new facility, according to Richard Betts, president of the Telluride Hospital District, is still years away.

Before patients ever step foot in the Interim Depot Clinic, the Telluride Hospital District will first work to retrofit the space for outpatient care, a process Dr. Grundy estimates will take at least a month, but leave no lasting mark on the historic building.

“Timing is everything,” according to Dr. Grundy. “During a typical summer, from June through September, we see the least amount of patients with upper respiratory tract infections. But come fall and into winter, we can count on an uptick of patients with the flu and other illnesses. What we do now to prepare for the fall and winter is going to make every difference to the people who will invariably become ill and our staff who will care for them.”

The med center’s staff have now been working under increasingly stressful conditions in outdoor tents for five months.

“Our priority has been to keep our community safe. I’m proud at how successful and innovative we’ve been in finding solutions to overcome the challenges of our facility — but the support we’re getting from our friends at Ah Haa and Telluride Science is absolutely critical,” said Dr. Grundy. “Both organizations are willing and supportive partners who are making significant sacrifices for the benefit of the health of the community. The day will come when we can celebrate their generosity with a party.”

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