LA JARA — Built in 1963, the Conejos County Hospital (CCH) has been birthplace to many county residents and was showing its age when staff and administrators began working toward renovations.
The grand re-opening was held all day Saturday, June 22, welcoming updates to its emergency area, along with many upgrades to the hospital.
Administrator Kelly Gallegos said change at the hospital and the emergency room had been a dream for years and eventually she watched the dream become a reality, with a $6 million renovation.
Dreaming big, she said there is more to be done but the major needs have been met.
Having the emergency room and admissions on opposite ends of the hospital was inconvenient at best, she said, and the ER needed its own space.
The SLV Health Board of Trustees and Foundation supported the renovation if funds could be raised.
Most of it came from grants, donations and fundraisers, as well as volunteer and in-kind efforts.
Three years ago, the dream of improving the hospital was a coat of paint, new cabinets and minor renovations, then a walk-through with Konnie Martin, CEO of San Luis Valley Health brought bigger dreams, Gallegos said.
The project produced a modern, safe and convenient single entry point with state-of-the-art emergency rooms. It represents great progress from the days when Dr. H. Dale Thomas practiced there and that history emphasized the need for change.
A pioneer and beloved doctor for many years in Conejos County, he was instrumental in founding and opening Conejos County Hospital as well as performing surgeries and delivering many babies there. A native of Manassa, he dedicated his life to medicine and passed away before he could see progress made at the facility.
From the only emergency service provider in the vast rural area, the 17-bed critical access hospital has evolved to a Level IV trauma center under the umbrella of San Luis Valley Health and offers board certified physicians on duty around the clock, a skilled nursing staff, modern lab and imaging services and critical care facilities, along with advanced life support prior to transferring patients to a higher-level trauma center if needed.
A show of hands Saturday indicated many audience members were born in the hospital. CCH currently provides for the emergency medical needs of more than 3,000 patients each year. With so much need in the 2,514 square mile area, Administrator Kelly Gallegos said CCH is always strengthening the quality and safety of emergency care delivery.
When construction work began, a beam was signed to honor the start and those who signed it were at the grand re-opening Saturday to share the joy of a job well done.
Proudly stating they were born there, Dr. Clint Sowards, Brian Jackson PA-C and State Representative Donald Valdez (D-La Jara) spoke of the important role San Luis Valley Health Conejos County Hospital has played in serving the medical needs of the Conejos-Costilla county area and in their own lives.
Dr. Sowards was born at the hospital, raised in the community, left for education and returned to serve the area. He spoke of the progress the hospital has enjoyed and the efficiency of medical care available.
Jackson recalled the problems involved in helping patients in the old facilities and working as the needed renovations were completed.
Also given credit for working within the constraints of the old facility was Dr. Marco Celada, who came from South America and has dedicated most of his 21-year professional career to serving the people of the San Luis Valley.
Gallegos said, “Our hospital serves an important need in the southern part of the San Luis Valley and northern New Mexico. We have dedicated staff along with a very welcoming inpatient atmosphere where patients get personal attention and top-notch access to x-ray, laboratory and therapy services.”
Emergency Medical Director Dr. Donna Nelson added, “This improvement will directly benefit the citizens of Conejos County and because we also live in this area and work here, we are elated with this addition to our facility. It is our passion and privilege to deliver compassionate and high quality health care to travelers, friends, neighbors, and family.”