Flanked by legislators, officials with the Colorado Department of Higher Education, Trinidad State College President Rhonda Epper and Colorado Community College System Chancellor Joe Garcia, Governor Jared Polis announced a bold, new action on Monday in addressing Colorado’s healthcare worker shortage.

The action includes proposed funding for the creation of Colorado’s third medical school, expanded facilities for nursing, expanded and enhanced veterinary medicine training and a new Allied Health facility at Trinidad State College for workforce training in a variety of healthcare fields. The Certificate of Participation bill was expected to be introduced on Monday afternoon.

“With this plan,” Governor Polis said, “Colorado will train more world-class doctors, nurses, veterinarians, and other health professionals to provide Coloradans with the care they need. From Denver to Fort Collins, Greeley, and Trinidad, these new opportunities will attract students from Colorado and across the country to our communities.

“This will positively impact the local economy and ensure Colorado has the strong healthcare workforce needed to provide care to Coloradans today and in the future. The UNC Medical school we are announcing the funding plan for today will graduate upwards of 150 new doctors each year to help keep us healthy. I thank our university presidents and state lawmakers for their partnership on this exciting initiative."

If passed, the bi-partisan Certificate of Participation legislation would make historic investments across the state in four Colorado institutions of higher education to bolster the state’s healthcare workforce and support Colorado’s students and caregivers.

Specifically, the bipartisan legislation would support the College of Osteopathic Medicine at University of Northern Colorado, the Health Institute Tower at Metro State University Denver, the Veterinary Health Education Complex at Colorado State University (CSU), and allocate a $22 million investment in the Valley Campus Building Addition at Trinidad State College.

“Our institutions of higher education are the economic engines for the state,” said Senator Barb Kirkmeyer. “This bill invests in our institutions to continue this work and specifically target our rural areas of the state most in need of additional healthcare and veterinary care professionals.”

“What’s driving this is the need for human health care workers everywhere, including in the San Luis Valley and rural Colorado,” Governor Polis told the Valley Courier." He continued, "Trinidad State College can be a big part of that solution, especially with the Alamosa campus where the investment will result in graduating 50% more EMTs, dental assistants, nurses and nursing assistants. The San Luis Valley will also benefit from an investment that increases capacity at the state’s only veterinary school at CSU, which will graduate 20% more veterinarians. And we think this may just make CSU, now currently ranked as the number two best veterinary school in the nation, rank at number one.”

The governor expects that the bi-partisan funding plan will hopefully be ratified by the legislature in April or May, at the latest, and the funds will be available by July with construction of the Allied Health addition projected to take about 18 months.

“A $22 million investment is a good investment in the San Luis Valley and should bring jobs and greater opportunities for new careers in health care not just today but for generations to come,” Polis said.

In speaking to the Valley Courier, Trinidad State College’s President Epper provided some background that led to today’s announcement.

“The main building on the Valley Campus was built in 1936 as an elementary school,” she said, “and it doesn’t function well as a place for higher learning and career advancement. The Health Sciences Building has been in very poor condition for a long time. Single pane windows, a bad HVAC system, a roof that’s leaking.

“We put a plan together about three years ago and it’s gone through the [Colorado legislature’s] Capital Development process. The building is kind of shaped in an L and the area where the courtyard is will be enclosed and will contain a one-stop place for students with better entrances. We’re going to consolidate the Allied Health Building into the Main Building with the old Allied Health Building slated for demolition once the project is completed.”

This is not a new project, Epper added. “We’ve gone before the Capital Development Committee twice before and we’ve ranked pretty high in the community college program, but we have to compete with other four year higher education for funding.

“We’re the smallest of the four projects. But because we already had an approved architectural plan with the committee, we were chosen, and I’m just thrilled because it gives us a better chance to receive funding. I’m also very pleased that they recognized the need to include rural Colorado in the workforce solution to the healthcare crisis.”

Epper went on to say, “This renovation will help leverage the dollars coming into the Valley through the Opportunity Now partnership grant, which is helping to support TSC's launch of an evening and weekend nursing option. An announcement about that grant will be coming within the next few weeks."

Epper said that Senator Simpson, who sits on the Capital Development Committee, has expressed his support for the project.