Hospitals give economy shot in the arm

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—As his surgical staff preps a patient, gastroenterologist Dr. Peter Walsh, right, gets ready to scope the patient in the surgical center at Community Hospital.

Photo by Gretel Daugherty—Registered nurse Matt Price informs another nurse that one of the patients he’s monitoring in the Intensive Care Unit at Community Hospital has flatlined as alarms go off in the unit. Price is the director of the ICU at the hospital.

Colorado hospitals employed 71,000 people last year and directly and indirectly flooded the state’s economy with $18.8 billion, according to a study released last week by the Colorado Hospital Association.

The study, researched by Colorado State University and titled “Examining the Impacts of Hospitals on the Colorado Economy,” details the economic impact of hospitals before and during the economic downturn of the last few years.

The study aims to show people hospitals can benefit communities in more than one way, according to Steven J. Summer, president and chief executive officer of the Colorado Hospital Association.

“This study shows that hospitals’ impact on local communities is so much more than just providing care — it’s also about providing job growth and economic stability statewide,” Summer said in a statement released with the study.

According to the study, the state’s economy overall lost more than 123,000 jobs between 2007 and 2010. Hospitals, meanwhile, added nearly 5,000 jobs during those same years and paid an average wage of $69,900 a year in 2010. The study estimates 61,400 Coloradans were employed last year in other industries that work with hospitals.

While other businesses lost customers, hospitals continued to receive visitors, which contributed to stability and growth. To meet patient demand, Community Hospital added 25 employees to work at Grand Valley Primary Care between 2009 and 2011 and hired 13 new employees to work at Grand Valley Urgent Care, according to Community Hospital President and Chief Executive Officer Chris Thomas. Urgent Care and Primary Care are part of the Community Hospital system.

Hospitals have noticed changes during the recession. Thomas said the portion of Community Hospital’s revenue that comes from uninsured patients increased by 20 percent in 2011 compared with three years ago. Uninsured patients now make up 12.5 percent of business revenue at the hospital.

Almost half of the hospital’s patient revenue comes from Medicare and Medicaid. If either program experiences cuts, Thomas said it could hurt all hospitals.

“We’re absolutely worried about the future and challenges coming down the road, but we know health care is critically important to our community. We’re in a position where we’re going to have to figure it out,” Thomas said.

The health care and social assistance industry was the largest employer in Mesa County as of the first quarter of 2011, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Diane Schwenke said the growth in the Community Hospital system, new construction at the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and having St. Mary’s Hospital build a tower recently makes hospitals “one of the main economic drivers for our status as a regional hub.” The presence of hospitals here helps people find health care jobs and others, she said, because that regional-hub status attracts businesses to the area.

Hospitals also are a great addition to a city, Schwenke said, because they require numerous employees.

“Health care also tends to be very labor intensive, in terms of the people it takes to run a hospital or a doctor’s office,” she said.


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