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BCH History

Boulder Community Health was born a century ago from a powerful but simple insight – local control of health care resources is the best approach to safeguarding the health and well-being of Boulder County families.

The Boulder community of that era had already felt the impact of not having such control. University Hospital had opened on the Boulder campus of the University of Colorado in 1889, but when the university decided to move its medical school to Denver in 1920, the long-term future of that facility was in doubt.

In 1922, university regents offered to let the Boulder Chamber of Commerce operate the facility for three years with free rent and utilities – if the community agreed to find or construct a suitable replacement facility during that period. The nonprofit Community Hospital Association of Boulder was established on April 19, 1922 to construct and operate such a community-owned, locally governed hospital.

View of the Boulder Hospital at 2705 Broadway. It was formerly the Ben Hagman house. 1921

A group of local doctors, worried that Boulder might be left without a hospital, had joined together in 1921 to convert a house at Broadway and Alpine into the 15-bed North Boulder Hospital. Those doctors donated North Boulder Hospital to the new Community Hospital Association. A broad-based community campaign then raised $85,000 to remodel and expand North Boulder Hospital.

A view of a crowd of adults observing the ground breaking ceremony on 9 June 1925 for the Boulder Community Hospital. William Loach holds the shovel.

That enlarged facility – christened Boulder Community Hospital -- opened with 45 patient beds in 1926. Community support and staff enthusiasm were high, but trouble was on the horizon. The Great Depression started in 1929 and high overhead costs combined with fewer patients than expected brought the fledging hospital to the verge of bankruptcy. An extensive public education campaign convinced 65% of Boulder voters to approve a property tax increase that provided $5,500, enough to return the hospital to sound financial footing.

BCH weathered the Depression, and the hospital’s physicians and administrators began methodically expanding its services and facilities decade by decade to meet the evolving needs of the county’s growing population.

Important steps also were being taken to expand public involvement in BCH. A Women’s Auxiliary was founded in March of 1954 to act as community ambassadors for the growing hospital, as well as raising money to fund new equipment and facilities. Four years later, 35 teenage girls known as Candy Stripers were added to the growing corps of community volunteers at BCH. Duties included entertaining children in the pediatric ward, carrying suitcases for newly admitted or discharged patients, and assisting with trays at mealtimes.

One panoramic photograph of Boulder Community Hospital at 1100 Balsam Avenue. Photo is believed to date circa 1964-1965 based on cars in photo. Photo by Delbert A. Nelson.

BCH admitted its 100,000th patient in 1962, 40 years after the official founding. However, it would only take another 12 years for BCH to reach its 200,000th patient. Starting in 1955, there were four major expansions in just 20 years, with BCH growing from 70 beds to 172.

Community involvement took an important leap forward in 1978 with the founding of the BCH Foundation, an independent organization of citizen volunteers recruited to take a more methodical approach to fundraising. Five years later, the Foundation introduced the Tree of Life program that shone a spotlight on the importance of local donors.

In 1989, BCH purchased its smaller hometown rival, Boulder Memorial Hospital. Occupancy rates at hospitals across Colorado were declining at that time, and Memorial had also been losing market share to BCH, which was twice its size. Memorial’s leaders felt their hospital’s long-term viability was uncertain, so they approached BCH about merging.

Over time, most medical services were consolidated at BCH, but Memorial’s highly regarded rehabilitation programs were kept at their site at 311 Mapleton Avenue. The facility was renamed the Mapleton Center for Rehabilitation and provided the community a broad range of outpatient rehabilitation services until 2015, when that facility closed.

Boulder Community Hospital, Mapleton Center at 311 Mapleton Ave. Originally called Memorial Hospital. Memorial and Boulder Community hospitals merged in 1989.

Beginning in the late 1990s, BCH began unprecedented investments in advanced technologies and new facilities, launching the footprint of the regional network of services in place today.

A greatly expanded Community Medical Center opened in Lafayette in 2000. Three years later, the initial phase of Foothills Hospital opened, a 60-bed facility with a groundbreaking environmentally responsible design that received national recognition. Over the next decade, the Foothills Medical Campus became the central hub of BCH services, with the hospital undergoing a major expansion and important facilities added to the site -- Anderson Medical Center (cardiology and surgery), Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion (mental health services), Reynolds Family Medical Building (gastroenterology and primary care) and Tebo Family Medical Building (cancer care).

While BCH had always updated its medical equipment regularly, over the last two decades it became a regional leader in advanced medical technology. BCH operated the first CyberKnife radiosurgery system in Colorado and was an early adopter of both the Mako and da Vinci robotic assisted surgery systems. Due to these services and other cutting-edge treatments, BCH began regularly attracting and treating patients from across Colorado and adjoining states.

In 2014, BCH adopted a new name—Boulder Community Health—to better reflect our evolution into a regional health care network with multiple locations.

While BCH had offered inpatient behavioral health services since 1986, overall community access to care for mental health concerns had been challenging for years. In 2019, BCH magnified its efforts to address those problems by opening the $45 million Della Cava Family Medical Pavilion, featuring 18 private rooms for adult inpatient care, an outpatient counseling center and electroconvulsive therapy—all within a nature-inspired building innovatively designed to enhance wellness and recovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Boulder County in 2020, becoming the major focus of BCH as non-emergency services were temporarily suspended. Operations were quickly reorganized to safely provide optimal care for patients sickened by COVID while also restarting many medical services in virtual formats. The community creatively rallied around BCH’s doctors and nurses, with thousands of donors supporting Feed the Frontlines, which kept local restaurants in business by supplying meals to BCH staff, who were publicly acknowledged as Health Care Heroes.

On April 19, 2022, BCH celebrated 100 years of service to its steadfastly supportive community.

Aerial view of Foothills Hospital, 2021

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