Cancer center to open at Glenwood hospital

Charlie Rawlins, a superintendent with JE Dunn Construction, surveys the new five-story building at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs from a hospital helipad built in 2005.

GLENWOOD SPRINGS — As if cancer diagnosis and treatment aren’t traumatic enough for patients, for residents of Garfield and Pitkin counties it also often has meant weeks of daily trips to Grand Junction or Eagle County for radiation sessions.

“It’s every Monday through Friday, making the drive,” said Deb Wiepking, chief clinical officer for Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs.

But Valley View is about to change that, with the scheduled opening of the $26 million Calaway & Young Cancer Center in September. The center, which will be housed in a new five-story building, stands as the latest symbol of the remarkable growth and transformation of the hospital since its founding in the 1950s.

Valley View has a cancer center that can provide only chemotherapy, not radiation treatment. The new, 30,000-square-foot center will have about $7 million in radiation equipment, including a state-of-the-art, $3 million linear accelerator designed to target cancer while sparing surrounding tissue.

The center is being paid for partly through $7 million in charitable donations. That includes $2 million apiece from Roaring Fork Valley philanthropists Jim and Connie Calaway (he’s a retired oil man) and from Alpine Bank founder Bob Young, a cancer survivor.

Valley View estimates that 60 percent of local residents now leave the area for cancer treatment, but more than 90 percent cancers will be treatable at the hospital with the center’s opening.

The center is the latest in a multiphase construction project, dating to 2002, that has included construction or renovation of the radiology, emergency, surgical and respiratory therapy departments, and the family birthplace area.

Charlie Rawlins, a superintendent at JE Dunn Construction, has been working on Valley View projects for 11 years. He said the hospital was at 80,000 square feet when he arrived, and is now reaching 350,000 square feet. Planned additional projects include creating expanded cardiology, urology and neurosurgery facilities in the new building.

The hospital’s growth has required some accommodations and delicate dealings with the city and nearby neighborhoods. The city agreed to waive height limits, a street was closed, and assurances about minimizing impacts were requested when the hospital sought to have a helipad installed several years ago.

Hospital spokeswoman Alice Sundeen credited the CareFlight pilots at St. Mary’s Hospital in Grand Junction for being sensitive to Glenwood residents’ concerns in their flights to and from the hospital.

“They’ll fly in high and practically just jump down on the helipad” to minimize impacts, she said.

Any community growth pains going along with the hospital’s continued expansion have been accompanied by huge economic benefit. The hospital has more than 200 physicians today, up from about 80 in 2001. It employs 900 people, making it the largest private business in Garfield County, and it paid those people a total of $68.7 million in payroll and benefits last year.

The not-for-profit hospital receives no tax revenue and has been paying for its projects through means including bonds, cash reserves and donations. After the recession hit, Valley View was responsible for more than half the value of construction in Glenwood Springs in 2010, and 41 percent in 2011. It estimates that $65 million in construction work from 2010–12 will have generated more than 500 construction jobs.

The hospital has undertaken all this expansion while maintaining its services and earning multiple awards for service under the J.D Power and Associates Distinguished Hospital Program. It also has been recognized nationally by the Planetree organization based on how it has implemented that organization’s methods for humanizing, demystifying and personalizing care. The approach runs the gamut from offering pet and music therapy to adding art and incorporating lighting and furnishings to make for a more homelike feel for patients. It also involves empowering employees to do everything from whipping up a special meal on request to staging an impromptu, last-minute wedding to meet a patient’s dying wish.

Such touches are reminders that when it comes to hospital care, expensive new facilities aren’t enough.

Said Wiepking, “It’s your people and the little things that make the difference and set you apart.”


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