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Lovelace’s bed-sharing proposal is not realistic

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As a Bernalillo County Commissioner, I’m committed to protecting the interests of our taxpayers by ensuring that the hospital mill levy dollars sent to University Hospital are used efficiently and equitably. We are all concerned about long waits in University of New Mexico Hospital’s emergency room and the delays in transferring sick patients out of the ER into more appropriate hospital beds and I have followed closely the debate over the proposed expansion that would add to UNMH’s bed capacity.

I read with interest Wednesday’s article about Lovelace Health System’s offer to enter into a bed-sharing agreement with UNMH. While the Lovelace proposal is put forth as a cost-saving alternative to a UNMH expansion, the facts demonstrate it will not save taxpayers money, nor will it accommodate the patients that need beds today, much less the future needs of sick and injured people in this community.

Much of what Lovelace asserted about why a bed-sharing agreement would be better for the state is simply wrong.

First, they suggest that a bed-sharing agreement would help alleviate UNMH’s current overcrowding problem — as if hospitals can trade patients like baseball cards.

UNMH’s emergency room is the only Level 1 trauma center in the state, which means it sees the most dire cases — ones that Lovelace’s medical center is not equipped to handle. Just because Lovelace has an extra bed available does not mean it can provide the level of care a patient requires. If someone in my family suffered major injuries in a car accident, I wouldn’t want him or her sent to a facility that had an open bed but lacked the capacity to provide adequate care.

Second, the expansion of our state’s Medicaid program will soon create an influx of additional Medicaid patients into New Mexico’s health care delivery system. The 40 or so extra beds Lovelace can provide today simply won’t be enough to accommodate Bernalillo County’s future needs. The UNMH expansion will provide more beds to more patients and provide the care they need. That is critical, and something all New Mexicans fully understand.

The most concerning part of the article was Lovelace CEO, Ron Stern’s statement that he would give priority to patients who are members of Lovelace’s insurance program. That calls into question whether Lovelace’s currently vacant beds will be available to all New Mexicans, regardless of insurance coverage, the way UNMH’s beds are.

Lovelace’s proposal risks violating federal requirements. Hospitals cannot pick and choose which patients they serve based on who’s enrolled in their insurance programs. It goes against the rules of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — as well it should. No one should have to worry when they enter a hospital whether they’ll get the care they need because of their insurance coverage or lack thereof.

I agree with the statement that “health systems ought to do their best to create the most efficient network of facilities, to minimize the costs to taxpayers.”

But Lovelace’s current proposal is not a realistic, cost-saving answer to the short term need for hospital beds, nor does it even begin to address the increased demand for hospital beds and services over the coming years. It’s time to stop throwing roadblocks in the way of the UNMH expansion and get the work under way so appropriate health care is available to all our residents.

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