District History //
Though formed in 1975, the history of the Southern Teller County Health Services District is firmly planted in the history
of Teller County itself. It is a unique story; one that represents the best in community service, vision, resolve,
cooperation, and dedication to securing a strong future for its residents.
Teller County //
As the last decade of the 1800's opened, what is now Teller County was then the western portion of El Paso County. Its County seat was Colorado Springs, a growing and prosperous western city located along the front range foothills at the eastern base of Pikes Peak.
On the southwestern side of Pikes Peak, the terrain offered mountainous ridges and rock formations, as well as grassy rangeland where a sparse population of ranchers raised their cattle.
In 1891, a ranch hand working on his family's land in the area discovered gold. That discovery changed the landscape of the area, both literally and figuratively, forever.
By the late 1890’s the area was covered with numerous small towns filled with miners and their families, as well as two large cities, Cripple Creek and Victor, that boasted populations in the tens of thousands.
A support system of government services, infrastructure, schools, and private sector businesses was built to service the mining industry and the visitors, workers and families of the burgeoning Cripple Creek Gold District.
Among these were critically needed medical services. Reportedly, as early as mid-1893, there were 80 doctors practicing in the new Gold District. They soon recognized the need for a full service hospital to meet the many serious health care needs of their patients.
As the core of professional business leadership in the Gold District, they organized efforts to recruit the Sisters of Mercy to open a hospital in Cripple Creek. In late 1893, Sister Claver Coleman arrived from Durango to open the District’s first hospital, and, on January 4, 1894, St. Nicholas Hospital opened in a donated house located at 326 E. Eaton.
Following two fires in April of 1896 that destroyed much of Cripple Creek, and with the population continuing to grow by the thousands, The Sisters of Mercy opened a new, modern hospital in May of 1898. It was located on the hilltop at 235 E. Eaton, just a block from its original location. Designed by Denver architect John Huddart, the 3-story brick hospital was “thoroughly modern, with electric lights, steam heat, hot and cold running water, and a state of the art surgery department.” It provided 18 beds for medical patients.
By that time, Cripple Creek was the third largest city in the State, and this southwestern portion of El Paso County had become an economic powerhouse, with financial influence around the globe.
It was time, local leadership felt, to take control of their own destiny; to break away from El Paso and form their own County. After much opposition from El Paso County authorities and members of the State legislature, on March 25, 1899, Teller County was officially formed from the western most portion of El Paso. Cripple Creek became the County Seat.
County officials then set about providing all of the services needed by their residents, including a new County hospital. Designed by noted architect C.E. Troutman, constructed in 1901, and opened in April 1902, the large two-story solid brick structure well represented the prosperity of the region. Like the smaller St. Nicholas Hospital it had all of the modern amenities including steam heat, sewer lines, electric lights, hot and cold running water, and all of the latest medical equipment.
During its period of prosperity, the County’s charity needs were provided through churches, lodges, unions, associations, the Salvation Army, and services generously funded by mining multi-millionaire Winfield Scott Stratton.
Eventually, as the District’s fortunes fell, the County Hospital became not only the center for the County’s medical services, but also a center for charity, welfare, and relief outreach, mostly funded by the County.
With a capacity of 34 to 40 patients, it became a place not only for medical treatment, but to also provide for the disabled and elderly residents needing long-term care.
In effect, it was the County’s first residential nursing home.
Records showed that in 1909 the hospital was home to 11 long-term residents, referred to as “permanent patients.” Among them was Elizabeth Yerrick, who entered the hospital in 1904 and lived there until her passing in 1919.
Created because of its booming gold mining economy, Teller County’s fortunes faded just as its gold mining did. By the mid-1900’s, population numbers were in the hundreds, rather than the tens of thousands.
In 1961, the Teller County Hospital closed its doors for good. Two years later, it was purchased and operated as a Bed and Breakfast hotel.
As for the smaller St. Nicholas Hospital, it had been purchased from the Sisters of Mercy by a local Doctor's group in 1924. After that, medical and hospital services continued to be offered there until 1960, when the building was reportedly sold to the County for $1. After that it was operated as a nursing home for area elderly and disabled under the name The Hilltop Nursing Home.
By 1972 it could no longer meet code and regulation requirements to remain open as a Nursing Home and was closed.
It was at this time that, as in 1893, a core group of local business leaders stepped in to again answer the need for residents’ medical services.
Their vision and determination led to the formation of The Southwest Teller County Hospital District in 1975, and the opening of the new Hilltop Nursing Home and Clinic in 1977.
Became the Hilltop Nursing Home in the early 1960's
Teller County Hospital - 1902
Housing "permanent patients" it provided the County's first
long-term residential nursing care services
Cripple Creek Care Center - 2015
District Timeline //
After several years of service the Hilltop Nursing Home, located at 235 E. Eaton in Cripple Creek (formerly the St. Nicolas Hospital), closed it doors for the final time as a medical facility.
Though at this time the population was at its lowest numbers since gold was discovered, local business leaders were determined to provide modern medical services to the area residents and the visitors who were the staple of the summer tourist economy.
Their months of research, meeting, and planning led the group to determine that the establishment of a Title 32 Special District was the best way to achieve their goal.
1975 - May 15th
The Service Plan for a Special District was filed with Teller County
1975 - November 10th
An Order and Decree was issued officially creating the Southwest Teller County Hospital District.
1975 - November 13th
The Board of Directors organizational meeting was held.
The first Board of Directors members for SWTCHD were:
Jack Gaffney-Chairman, Muriel Murphy-Secretary & Teasurer and Wayne Mackin, Theodore H. Mueller, and Gregory Robertson. The Nursing Home Administrator was Sue Huffman, Doc Denman was the medical director, and Good Samaritan was the management company.
1976 - June 8th
First Election Results for Directors and Bonds
1976 - August 28th
Groundbreaking for the New Facility
1977 - June 19th
Dedication Ceremony for the Hilltop Community Health Care Facility
The facility consisted of the Hilltop Nursing Home and the A.C. Denman Clinic. The nursing home occupied the eastern portion of the building with two main wings/halls offering 60 beds. The western portion, or clinic area, was separated from the nursing home by double doors and had a three-bed unit for emergency care, an xray room, a lab, two exam rooms and two small doctor offices. The building also had an attached garage and covered ambulance dock.
Community Healthcare Clinic
In the 1980’s Debbie Arseneau, Teller County Public Health Director, was awarded a grant from The Colorado Trust that helped open a clinic staffed by Mike and Mary Szymanski, nurse practitioners. The two exam rooms and doctor offices were used for this clinic. The clinic provided healthcare for the entire community, not just the nursing home residents. John (Jack) Zajac, MD from Woodland Park directed the nurse practitioners. After Mike and Mary moved, Paul Wartman and other NPs were hired, and other doctors, including Dr. Kanai and Dr. Bedhi, directed medical operations.
1992 - June
EMS Added to the District
Gaming was approved for Cripple Creek by voters in 1990. By October of 1991, several casinos opened their doors. The Board of Directors, consisting of John and Lila Stengel, Jo Ann Kincaid, Bonnie Mackin, and others, saw that the all-volunteer staff for emergency services in Cripple Creek could not meet the needs of the coming influx of visitors and new residents into Southern Teller County. The Board voted to include Emergency Medical Services in the Hospital District. In June 1992 the 24-hour service began operations with one ambulance staffed by one paramedic and one EMT. Candy Shoemaker was hired as the Director.
Name Changed to Cripple Creek Rehab and Wellness Center
In 1996 the Board signed a contract for management of the nursing home with Continuum Management Company. During Continuum’s operation the name of the facility was change from Hilltop to Cripple Creek Rehab and Wellness Center (CCRWC). It was planned at that time to do more outpatient physical therapy and occupational therapy.
Jim Parker and Dennis Ziefel, Nursing Home Administrator from Continuum, were instrumental in getting a loan to pay off bills in the amount of $413,000. Other NHAs during this time were Jackie Webb, Dee Crowe, and Debbie Ketterman.
Continuum decided that the community health clinic was not profitable, and the management company terminated all staff. William Schroeder, DO utilized the clinic area to see nursing home residents and patients from the community. Some offices were also rented out to a chiropractic group during this time period.
Mill Levy Approved by Voters
Funding for Hilltop Nursing Home and Emergency Medical Services was primarily through fees charged. The City of Cripple Creek contributed support for EMS. In 1999 voters of the district approved a 1.64 mill levy to support emergency services and help with capital improvements at the nursing home.
CopperSands Management Company
The Board of Directors, including Tish Allen, Jeff Rucker, Barbara Cook, Bill Hack, and Clay Briggs, hired a new management company, CopperSands Management Company. Terri Locke was the Nursing Home Administrator at this time.
Board of Directors Decides to Manage
On the verge of closing the doors at the nursing home, the Board of Directors, including Jim Vance, Betty Kaufman, Tom Hatton, and Lee Gardner, terminated CopperSands Management Company. Celina Henry, a strong financial NHA, was hired, and the nursing home was put back on its feet financially.
2010 - November
Voters approved Mill Levy
Faced with the possibility of having only one ambulance to cover all of southern Teller County emergencies, voters in the Southwest Teller County Hospital District approved an increase in the mill levy to keep existing services. The vote in the November 2010 election was 1,048 for and 767 against. The 2.06 mill increase, dedicated to EMS operations, was expected to raise $470,000 in additional revenue in 2011 for EMS. This increase allows EMS to fully staff two ambulances – each with a paramedic and an Emergency Medical Technician.
Through very focused financial management, and negotiations leading to debt reductions, the Board serving since 2005 achieved a debt-free status for the nursing home, including the retirement of the mortgage.
Service Refocus; Name Changes
In the latter part of 2012, the Board decided to return to the District's original vision, offering residential nursing care to the elderly and disabled. This ended several years of offering in-house addiction treatment and rehab services at the Cripple Creek facility.
That decision once again brought about a name change for the facility. The Board dropped the name Cripple Creek Rehab and Wellness Center and began the year of 2013 operating as the
Cripple Creek Care Center.
At the same time, the Board also decided to change the name of the District itself. When formed in 1975, it began as the Southwest Teller County Hospital District. This had become a "grandfathered" name with the State several years ago when the use of "Hospital District" was no longer allowed in new Title 32 District naming regulations.
It was felt, too, that a name change would also better reflect the expanded mission and actual coverage area of the District. As of 2013, the official recorded name of the District became:
The Southern Teller County Health Services District.
On January 20, 2020, the CDC reported the first confirmed case of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the United States, and the first reported case in Teller County was on March 23, 2020. This was the first pandemic since 1919. The pandemic crippled the healthcare industry, with many healthcare providers getting out of health care.
Care Center closes
On June 15, 2022, the Cripple Creek Care Center closed permanently due to a staffing shortage of nurses and certified nursing assistants and decreased revenues. By this time, more than 300 nursing homes closed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and it was projected that an additional 400 nursing homes across the Country could go out of business by the end of 2022. The Board of Directors decided to put the Care Center building up for sale, with the intention of using the money from the sale to build an EMS building for Southwest Teller County EMS, because they have been housed by the City of Cripple Creek at the CCFD for about the past 30 years. There was no interest in purchasing the building, and it was discovered that even if the building was sold, that would not provide enough money to buy land and build an EMS building. On September 20, 2022, the Board of Directors unanimously approved repurposing the Care Center building to EMS for their EMS quarters. A remodel of the building was started at this time.
In January 2023, an RFP (request for proposal) was put out for the construction of the bays to house the ambulances. A construction company was selected and the process of starting the project began.
June 24th, 2023
Renamed the building to the "JAMES VANCE CENTER FOR EMS EXCELLENCE".