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Partnership Fuels Future of Health Care in Pueblo

College and hospital join forces for educational and economic growth in Southern Colorado.

By Patsy B. Weiler on April 11, 2023

PCC Nursing and Allied Health Teaching and Learning Center at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo
Ryan Dearth

It was a phone call Dr. Patty Erjavec wasn’t expecting and will never forget, one that kicked open the door to a big dream that became a reality with the opening of the new Pueblo Community College Nursing and Allied Health Teaching & Learning Center in January 2023.

Located in the vacated East Tower at St. Mary-Corwin Hospital’s legacy campus, the facility falls into the win column for Pueblo health care in many ways.

The result of an innovative and dynamic partnership between the college and St. Mary-Corwin Hospital, the renovated space means expanded educational offerings, workforce development and job creation while helping to revitalize Pueblo’s Bessemer and Minnequa Heights neighborhoods.

The area had experienced a decline following the close of the tower and related job losses in 2018.

Call of Possibilities

Erjavec, the Pueblo Community College president, recalls the day in fall 2018 when Mike Cafasso, CEO of St. Mary-Corwin Hospital, posed a 450,000-square-foot question during their telephone conversation.

The wheels in her mind started quickly spinning.

“He said, ‘Patty, what if I were to give you 450,000 square feet for a dollar a year in perpetuity?’” recalls Erjavec, who has been at the helm of the college for 13 years. “I am the kind of person who doesn’t just say no. I started thinking how the space could increase the number of students served, and I said, ‘OK, let’s make this happen.’”

The administrator called a team together to discuss possibilities for best use of the gift and substantial fundraising ideas. Since the college was already using about 10% of the area in the tower for clinical simulation training and various lab classes, it was a natural step to grow the school’s enrollment by moving many of its nursing and allied health programs there.

The tower is again humming with energy and excitement as classes began in nearly 60,000 renovated square feet on three floors at the start of the 2023 spring semester.

PCC Nursing and Allied Health Teaching and Learning Center at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, CO
Ryan Dearth

New Spaces and Faces

Students can now study nursing, surgical technology, radiologic technology, medical assisting, respiratory care, occupational therapist assistant and pharmacy tech programs in their state-of-the-art home. The expansion will allow PCC to award an additional 225 health degrees, bringing a potential $15 million boost to the economy with high-paying essential jobs, says Erjavec.

Cafasso is pleased the hospital tower is now an important part of the solution to provide health care workers for the area.

“It brings us great joy to see this space used for the education of current and future caregivers,” Cafasso says. “The demand for qualified health care providers currently exceeds the supply. This working relationship provides PCC with a place where they can further educate their students, and it allows us to support our incredible caregivers with career advancement and workforce development in our own health system.”

PCC Nursing and Allied Health Teaching and Learning Center at St. Mary-Corwin Medical Center in Pueblo, CO
Ryan Dearth

Planting Seeds for Health Care in Pueblo

Approximately $15 million in funding for the project came from public and private partnerships and grants, including a $7.2 million gift from the Mary Jane Voelker estate, a $4.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce and $500,000 in funding from the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority.

Dave Abeyta, chairman of the Pueblo Urban Renewal Authority, sees the new use of the tower as a key part of the unfolding renaissance taking place in Bessemer and Minnequa Heights, one of the most historic parts of the city.

On the drawing board is development of a day care facility to remove the barrier for students attending classes in need of child care.

“I think for me it is knowing we have planted the seed for economic vitality for years and years to come,” Erjavec says. “This is just the tip of the iceberg.”

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