Aurora city council partially funds Metro Community Provider Network north Aurora expansion project

The funds will come from unallocated dollars generated by marijuana tax revenues in the city, council members decided.

AURORA | Members of the Aurora City Council Monday night agreed to split the difference on a request to fund an expansion project for the Metro Community Provider Network’s north Aurora clinic on Peoria Street.

After much back-and-forth, a majority of council members agreed to grant MCPN $100,000 for the construction of additional exam rooms at its packed north Aurora facility, which provides healthcare to thousands of homeless and indigent people each year.

Those funds will come from unallocated dollars generated by marijuana tax revenues in the city, council members decided. Councilwoman Renie Peterson was the first to suggest funding the request using pot money.

The local, nonprofit medical group, which has more than 26 clinics in five Colorado counties, had originally asked the city for $200,000, although several council members balked at the lofty request.

“You know when I saw that number, 200,000, I honest to God thought it was a typo,” said City Council member Sally Mounier. “It was so enormous a number, I thought you meant 20,000 not 200,000. That is a big chunk of change for our taxpayers.”

Councilman Brad Pierce initially introduced the $100,000 proposal in place of the larger $200,000 ask.

The approved $100,000 will be used for the construction of a roughly 10,600-square-foot square foot addition, which will include 20 new exam rooms, according to documents compiled by MCPN.

The north Aurora clinic is by far the busiest in the MCPN network, handling more than 50,000 appointments annually, according to MCPN documents. Nearly 10,000 of those visits and services are rendered to people who are homeless, according to the organization.

“That is our busiest clinic,” Ben Wiederholt, CEO of MCPN, told council members Monday. “The demand there is overwhelming and currently we are not able to respond to the community need.”

John Reid, vice president of fund development for MCPN, said the demographics of north Aurora constantly put a strain on the healthcare providers in that area.

“Unfortunately, ZIP Codes 80010, 80011 and 80012 have the highest need for healthcare access in this entire state,” he said.

The Metro Community Provider Network offers services at 12 locations across Aurora.

The total budget for the construction project is about $3.8 million, according to Wiederholt. A large chunk of that will be funded by a $1 million grant from the Health Infrastructure Improvement Program with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The group also has secured several other sizable grants, along with the possibility of even more, from a slew of local foundations, including the Caring for Colorado Foundation.

Several council members expressed concerns over the request, although many of those objections were quelled after Peterson proposed using marijuana tax dollars, which have already been tagged for homeless initiatives.

“If it was $100,000 coming from the marijuana revenue that has not been spent or allocated, I would actually support it,” Councilman Bob LeGare said after initially speaking out against the proposal.

Councilwoman Francoise Bergan repeatedly urged MCPN to ask local hospitals and county governments for grant money instead of the city.

“I would like to see you go to the hospitals and secure money from them,” she said. “… I also think the counties really need to pony up. They have, like I said, health and human services … under their umbrella.”

Citing Aurora’s nearly three-decade-long relationship with MCPN, Mayor Steve Hogan said the city has an obligation to help the organization fund the improvement project.

“I think we have a responsibility to do it,” Hogan said. “They serve the homeless in our city, who are more than 200 percent below the poverty level — 200 percent — and they are, in many cases, not only our residents but our citizens … this is something that it makes sense to do.”

Reid has said MCPN is planning on breaking ground on the expansion early next year and finishing up sometime in the first two months of 2019.