St Mary's Gift Banner Image

St. Mary’s gift nurtures growth of region’s health and wellness

The long partnership between Colorado Mesa University and SCL Health St. Mary’s has borne fruit for nearly a century and the most recent sowing — a $3 million gift to CMU for a medical education building — is already flowering.

The gift from SCL Health St. Mary’s, the largest ever received by the university, will benefit the hospital and the university, but most importantly will benefit the residents of western Colorado who have come to rely on both institutions.

St. Mary’s Hospital was established in 1912 to provide quality healthcare to western Colorado. To continue meeting that goal the hospital needs to maintain and grow a skilled and well-trained staff.

“Our focus is on workforce sustainability,” Bryan Johnson, President of SCL Health St. Mary’s, said, explaining the importance of the hospital’s contribution toward the construction of St. Mary’s Medical Education Center.

The 24,000 square foot facility will house the CMU Physician Assistant, Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy Programs.

“This is one of the most positive things we’ve done in community investment,” Johnson said, noting that the roots of the donation already are spreading through the healthcare community and beyond.

“St. Mary’s had in mind more than staff retention and development,” Johnson noted. “The greater the level of higher-education attainment in a community, the more successful and healthier that community is likely to be.”

The medical education center is poised to boost educational attainment levels, as well as increase opportunity in the region.

CMU’s existing Physician Assistant Studies Program expects to send 15 graduates into the workforce at the end of this academic year and that number is expected to grow to 25 the next year and 28 after that.

“St. Mary’s Medical Education Center establishes Colorado Mesa University as the focal point for the development of professionals in the medical field and the advancement of healthcare in western Colorado,” Colorado Mesa University President John Marshall said. “The Center will pave the way for hospitals to provide affordable, quality healthcare to patients from around the region, to say nothing of the clinics and physicians’ offices that the Center will benefit.”

“Demand for the program is already sky high,” said Amy Bronson, director of the CMU Physician Assistant Studies Program, and a certified physician assistant herself since 2008. “We had approximately 800 completed applications for our 28 available seats in this cohort” of the physician assistant program.” There’s a significant demand for expansion of the kind of educational and career opportunities that the medical education center will offer. 

Physician Assistants are medical professionals who often serve as the principal healthcare provider to patients. They diagnose illness, develop and manage treatment plans and prescribe medications, all based on thousands of hours of medical training that stresses versatility and collaboration. They work as seamlessly with specialists as they do with general practitioners.

St. Mary’s Medical Education Center will house two other programs in addition to the physician assistant program and Colorado Mesa University aims to develop a synergistic relationship among the disciplines in the Center.

The Master of Science in Occupational Therapy will begin in the new building in spring 2022 and the Doctorate in Physical Therapy will matriculate its first cohort in fall 2023.

Occupational therapy is aimed at restoring the abilities to perform everyday tasks of people who have been disabled. Physical therapy is intended to help improve patients’ mobility and restore them to active lifestyles.

St. Mary’s Medical Education Center will contain classrooms and clinical training space. It is located near the Maverick Pavilion, which is being expanded to provide additional classroom and laboratory space for those programs and others in the Department of Kinesiology.

SCL Health St. Mary’s and Colorado Mesa University already operate closely together in several areas, such as training nurses entering the field as well as those who are in mid-career. That tradition of cooperation and collaboration between the hospital and the university has deep roots. Colorado Mesa University established an Associate of Nursing degree in 1961 and 10 years later, a third of the graduates of the nursing program were employed at St. Mary’s. Fast forward 60 years and the addition of the programs in the medical education center further enhance the longstanding cooperation between the two organizations.

Colorado Mesa University President Emeritus Tim Foster hailed the SCL Health St. Mary’s donation when it was announced during his tenure as a “capstone investment in our health-related disciplines” and noted the contribution would “pay community health dividends to people who live in the region for years to come.” 

“Already, the investment by SCL Health St. Mary’s in the medical education center is paying off in terms of anticipation of greater numbers of physician assistants who will work with the physicians and other medical professionals already on staff there,” said Johnson. The hospital’s medical staff, Johnson said, “is enthused and very invigorated by this investment.”