Foundation plays key role, funding area healthcare

Thanks in no small part to persistent work by the Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Foundation over the past several years, Pagosa Mountain Hospital (PMH) has now been open and in service for 13 months.

Certainly, a long list of devoted individuals and associations have contributed substantial time, effort and finance toward development of PMH, not the least of which is the Upper San Juan Health Service District (USJHSD) Board of Directors. Both past and present directors have toiled long hours while bequeathing significant sums of money to the cause, even as the foundation has played a consistent role in firming up necessary funding, throughout.

According to foundation board of directors secretary Dick Babillis, the tax-exempt 501(c)(3) foundation’s sole purpose is to assist, benefit and support the USJHSD in its effort to deliver medical services to the community. While fundraising is a big part of its overall function, grant writing, its tax-exempt status and its “Enterprise Zone” designation by the Economic Development District of Southwest Colorado all contribute toward that end.

In October 1959, under its original “board of trustees,” the Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Center was incorporated as a non-profit, with a commitment to establishing a family medical practice in Pagosa Springs. Soon thereafter, on a site donated by the town, the first medical facility was built on San Juan Street.

By the mid-1990s, voters approved the assumption of an approximate $2.5 million general obligation bond by the USJHSD, as Tom and Mary Grant donated 13 acres of land along South Pagosa Boulevard, for development of a comprehensive medical campus. With the bond money and cash generated through a community-wide fundraising campaign, the foundation built and opened a new Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Center there, in 1996.

By 1998, in a move to integrate services and assure continued success, the center sold the San Juan Street location and became part of the USJHSD. Meanwhile, the original corporation transformed into the foundation it is today. Current board members include: president Lisa Scott, vice president Kathi DeClark, treasurer Bob Goodman, secretary Babillis; and directors Bud Brashar, Bob Huff, Michelle Visel and Jim Knoll.

In 2001, the Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Center achieved its Enterprise Zone designation, qualifying donations as charitable contributions for federal and state tax purposes. Such gifts, which now benefit the hospital and the district ambulance service (Emergency Medical Services), are also eligible for an additional 25 percent Colorado State Tax credit.

In the years leading up to PMH’s opening day, the district first had to get its financial house in order, develop a hospital concept, conduct feasibility studies, raise substantial capital and convince district voters to allow a $12 million increase in debt.

Following years of fiscal turmoil and mismanagement, the healing began with the election and subsequent seating of much of the current USJHSD board in May 2004. Since, board members have worked vigorously to identify district revenue and debt, pay past-due bills and collect outstanding invoices. Nevertheless, in the face of mounting debt and dwindling revenue, the district was forced to close the Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Center in March 2005.

As hospital plans gradually took shape, the district and foundation formed a fundraising committee with intent to raise $1 million to cover hospital operating expenses through the first year. With Lisa Scott serving as chair, Babillis, Visel, J.R. Ford, Maria Kolpin, and Ron and Deborah Parker set out to match a combined $500,000 challenge gift offered by four prominent area families. By July 2006, the committee had successfully reached its goal.

Today, in anticipation of future growth and long-term health and financial needs, the foundation works closely with the district’s Strategic Planning Committee to assure availability of necessary funding. To do so, members research and apply for grants that will go toward the purchase of new hospital equipment and the implementation of additional medical services.

For more information on the Dr. Mary Fisher Medical Foundation, or to make a charitable contribution, contact Kelly Johnson at Pagosa Mountain Hospital, 731-9545.

chuck@pagosasun.com