CU Anschutz Chancellor Don Elliman at State of City panel
Don Elliman, chancellor of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus, talks during the State of the City panel on Aug. 18. He is flanked by Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Arvada Mayor Marc Williams.

Chancellor Don Elliman shared highlights of the remarkable University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus story, including the campus’s ambition to provide the world’s finest health care, with a high-profile audience at the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce’s State of the City luncheon on Tuesday.

Elliman was on a panel that featured leaders who helped accomplish some of the Denver area’s most notable regional success stories: CU Anschutz Medical Campus, FASTRACKS, the Denver International Airport (DIA) intergovernmental agreement, and the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD). More than 500 business and civic leaders from across the Denver metro area attended the luncheon in the Seawell Grand Ballroom in Denver.

In his keynote address, Mayor Michael Hancock, a CU Denver alumnus (MPA), said Denver is an “It city” on the global stage that’s on the cusp of even greater transformation. He laid out some of the key goals of his second term in office: affordable housing, improved transportation infrastructure and more investment in education. On the fall ballot, he plans to include a sales tax initiative that would improve access to higher education while also reducing its cost.

“I don’t think there is a greater economic imperative than making sure that we invest in our kids so they are able to go to college — whether a four-year university or a community college — to complete the education pipeline and ensure that this region and city has the best-prepared workforce to maintain the momentum that we’re enjoying today,” Hancock said.

‘An amazing project’

In introducing the panel and moderating the discussion, Kelly Brough, CEO and president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce (and CU Denver alumna, MBA), said the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is a “great example of the partnership between public and private sectors” in the region.

Elliman said the original plan for the CU Anschutz Medical Campus called for a lengthy buildout. “The idea was it was going to take 40 years to build out the campus, and 12 years later it was finished,” he said. “We’re now effectively out of land, and fortunately we have the FRA (Fitzsimons Redevelopment Authority) land to the north that we can expand into. It’s been an amazing project that a lot of people needed to have a lot of vision to produce. … Most people would point to what is there now as the most successful (military) base realignment closure in the nation.”

He credited the projects that the other panelists represent — SCFD, FASTRACKS and DIA — for being key regional assets that help CU Anschutz Medical Campus compete with the best academic medical centers in the nation for pre-eminent researchers and physicians. He drew applause when he said, “I spent a couple of years in economic development … and you do come away with the absolute certainty that it is the regionalism of this community that is our No. 1 selling factor.”

When asked about the challenges each of the panelists face, Elliman said there are both good and difficult challenges. The good ones, he said, are how the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is growing. He said it receives 1.6 million patient visitors every year and has 56,000 vehicles, on average, coming to the campus daily. Difficulties include “continually under question” National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding, which provides the bulk of CU Anschutz research funding, as well as rising health care costs and uncertainties around the provider reimbursement system. Despite the headwinds, Elliman said, “For the campus as a whole, I believe that our opportunity map is brighter than our challenge map.”

Finest health care in the world

He said the ultimate goal of the CU Anschutz Medical Campus is to ensure that every citizen in the Rocky Mountain West never has to go beyond the Denver metro area for the finest health care in the world. “That’s what we’re aiming to achieve,” Elliman said. “We think we’re there in many specialties today, but we need to get there in more, and that ultimately is why we exist. … I do think we’re kind of an untold story. We’re a lot closer to that today than a lot of people realize, but that is in fact what our aim is.”

He noted that Children’s Hospital Colorado is currently ranked fifth nationally in pediatric hospitals, while the University of Colorado Hospital has been ranked the nation’s No. 1 academic hospital twice in the last four years.

The chancellor focused his closing remarks on the importance of “raising your hand” to help with critical issues the city and state still face, saying that the rewards of getting involved vastly outweigh the cost in time and effort.

He underscored the mayor’s view that making higher education more affordable and accessible is the most important single thing the region and state can work on. “I think passing that (initiative) may be one of the most seminal things that Denver could possibly do, and I hope to help,” Elliman said. “I hope we can get the support we need to get it done.”