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ABQ Journal

By Ron Stern / President and CEO, Lovelace Health System

Lovelace has a solution to the potential overcrowding at University of New Mexico Hospital — enter into a bed-sharing agreement and save the taxpayers $146 million.

Recently, it has come to light that UNMH wants to build a $146 million hospital in the downtown area to do elective surgeries. While we are not necessarily against the building of a new hospital that will serve a clear need, we believe that the new direction of health care is trending away from large facilities in downtown areas and toward clinics in neighborhoods.

A new hospital in the downtown area built by UNMH is inconsistent with these clear trends and could become a huge liability for the county and the state.

Instead, we are offering to share beds and work in a spirit of cooperation to save the taxpayers the $146 million facility cost of the new hospital.

At this time, coming out of the recession, public money must be spent wisely, and the need for such a significant public expenditure is far from clear, particularly when Lovelace and Presbyterian have beds available in Albuquerque. The taxpayers of Bernalillo County and our indigent patients deserve a cooperative effort.

In fact, transfer agreements already exist between hospitals. This bed-sharing agreement would not violate any federal statutes. We are not talking about transferring patients based on insurance.

Our proposal would implement a system of taking elective, surgical and medical patients before they even get to UNMH, to ease overcrowding and alleviate the long wait times at the Emergency Department.

UNMH has pointed to some federal requirements and regulations that have to be satisfied. However, there is a clearly legal and proper way to share beds to save the taxpayers more than $100 million.

We are willing and ready to sit down with UNMH and work out an acceptable procedure to give the taxpayers the best health care without needless spending on expensive capital projects.

County taxpayers now contribute more than $90 million a year in mill levy funds for the poor and uninsured. A new hospital of this kind raises many questions about the obligation to best care for the indigent, and it may not be in keeping with the mission of UNMH.

It may make sense in these changing times to establish a new method of using mill levy money, to allow the funds to follow the patient, and let patients go to any hospital they choose.

Furthermore, we recognize the need for the county to spend mill levy on health care may decrease as the new Affordable Care Act insures more people. In time, it may be possible to reduce the mill levy burden on the taxpayers, and those dollars meant for the indigent and poor can follow them to any facility.

In any case, a bed-sharing agreement between health care providers makes sense. A cost-conscious outcome with a focus on providing quality care is the goal shared by all. In a recent poll by the Rio Grande Foundation, when registered voters were asked to provide priorities for our county health care money, only 15 percent wanted a new hospital while 46 percent wanted clinics.

There are other priorities for the county’s health care money. We have a severe shortage of psychiatric care services, and we are in dire need of more drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers. If UNMH does not spend the $146 million on a new hospital, it can use some of those funds to provide these critically needed services.

These important issues were raised at a recent Bernalillo County Commission meeting as the commissioners grapple with mill levy expenditures and other future actions. The county will be creating a working group to weigh future health care decisions and the best use of the mill levy money. We support this effort.

By working together, we can provide high-quality health care for county residents and appropriately serve taxpayers as well. If this can be accomplished, I believe we have a solemn obligation to enter into these discussions.

To see this story in print, click here.

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