Jim Shmerling, president and CEO of 325-bed Children's Hospital Colorado, says he looks out his office window and sees four large cranes working on the three major building projects going on at the 227-acre Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora just outside of Denver: the expansion of his own institution, expansion of the 437-bed University of Colorado Hospital and construction of the new 1.1 million-square-foot, $800 million Veterans Affairs Department hospital.
“It's synergistic,” Shmerling says. “The success of one is helping the success of the others.”
Children's Hospital opened in September 2007 and is in the middle of a $230 million expansion project. The new East Tower will have 124 beds and three floors of empty shell space for future growth, so—when it opens late next year—it will increase the hospital's footprint to some 1.8 million square feet.
The University Hospital recently started a $400 million expansion that will include a 12-story, 276-bed tower, expansion of its Cancer Pavilion and a new parking garage.
Dubbed “Project Eagle,” the Denver VA Medical Center will include nine buildings, and plans call for 148 inpatient beds, including: 60 medical/surgical, 30 mental health, 28 intensive-care and a 30-bed spinal cord injury unit. There also will be a research center and a diagnostic and treatment building, which will house an emergency department.
It's not all new construction. An existing facility, which once housed the University Physicians academic medical group, is being renovated. The 1,600-doctor organization has a new 127,000-square-foot facility adjacent to the medical campus.
The Anschutz Medical Campus is located on the site of the old Fitzsimons Army Medical Center outside of Denver, which was most famous for being where President Dwight Eisenhower spent almost two months after suffering a heart attack while visiting Denver on Sept. 24, 1955; he didn't return to Washington until Nov. 11. During his recovery, “Ike” conducted business out of the hospital and even enjoyed a state visit from Carlos Castillo Armas and his wife, then president and first lady of Guatemala.
The old Army hospital remains on the campus and is now “Building 500.” It includes the Eisenhower Suite—the area where the president stayed for seven weeks, which has been restored to include 1955 vintage furnishings.
“I remember what the Fitzsimons Army Hospital was like when Eisenhower was there,” says Dr. Brent Keeler, president-elect of the Colorado Medical Society, who grew up nearby. “Someone who went away and came back would be amazed at how that great building is now a minor, minor part of the campus.”
The facility was closed in 1999 as part of the U.S. military's base realignment and closure process, and was then targeted for redevelopment into a healthcare and science research center. It was renamed the Anschutz Medical Campus in recognition of the $91 million donated to the cause by the Anschutz Foundation, a charity started by the parents of billionaire Philip Anschutz.
Colorado Medical Society CEO Alfred Gilchrist, however, gives much of the credit for the development's success to Dr. Richard Krugman, University of Colorado Denver vice chancellor for health affairs. Gilchrist recalls getting a tour of the developing site from Krugman in early 2006 after recently relocating from Texas.
“He drove me over there in a little sedan that was kind of old and beat up and took me out on the balcony of one of the old buildings,” Gilchrist remembers. “He said, ‘We're going to build this here and we're going to do this there,' and I was thinking, ‘Who is this guy?' In a time of economic downturn and state budget shortfalls, what he has done is nothing short of extraordinary.”
To the north of the Children's Hospital and University Hospital is the University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine, which includes the School of Dental Medicine, the Ben Nighthorse Campbell Native Health building and Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. To the north of the school is the Colorado Science and Technology Park at Fitzsimons.
“I went to medical school at the University of Colorado and graduated in 1977 and, at a recent reunion, I heard comments about the new campus like, ‘Gee, it's so large,'” Keeler recalls. “When we went to medical school, the support structures and research labs on the old campus were in a confined space in one or two buildings; now they have entire blocks dedicated to that. I think it's world-class and compares with Duke, Cleveland Clinic or Stanford.”