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Sandoval County voters to decide on reviving tax for hospital

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Two years after voters discontinued property tax support for the Sandoval Regional Medical Center, the Rio Rancho hospital will return to the ballot.

The facility, which is run by the University of New Mexico, is seeking about $6 million in annual mill levy revenue that officials say would enable it to operate a Level III trauma center and provide more behavioral health care.

Jamie Silva-Steele, SRMC president and CEO, said the community indicated those services were most critical for the county in a poll conducted earlier this summer to gauge voter appetite for restoring an SRMC mill levy. The poll also showed most voters supported the tax, she said.

The tax would be 1.9 mills, costing residents $63 per year for every $100,000 in assessed property value.

“I think if folks want these kind of programs in their community, there is a cost,” Silva-Steele said. “We’ve got to talk through how it is not unmanageable for residents to bring services into the community, so people can get care right in their own community vs. having to go into Albuquerque or Santa Fe.”

In 2008, Sandoval County voters approved an eight-year property tax that flowed into SRMC and Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, also in Rio Rancho. It totaled 4.25 mills – about $141 per year for a home valued at $100,000.

It was not renewed – voters in 2016 narrowly rejected extending the tax another eight years.

But the Sandoval County Commission last month approved UNM’s request to put the issue before voters again.

The tax would be lower than before because only SRMC would benefit. Presbyterian opted not to seek more mill levy funding, according to Rust Medical Center leadership.

“In the most recent election in which this request was on the ballot (in November 2016), voters did not approve an extension of the mill levy. We don’t think pursuing the request again is the right decision for us at this time,” Angela Ward, Rust’s chief hospital executive, said in a written statement to the Journal.

In deciding to put the SRMC question on the ballot for this November’s election, county commissioners noted some residents’ fierce opposition to the mill levy.

They cited opponents’ arguments that SRMC is too far from their own neighborhoods to be of much use and that Albuquerque hospitals are more convenient.

But the board ultimately approved sending the matter to the voters, with a few saying the community should decide.

SRMC would use most of the tax revenue to support 52 new staff and provider positions, but the money would also help cover some supplies, Silva-Steele said.

The hospital would boost outpatient behavioral health and substance abuse treatment services and crisis intervention programming with area law enforcement agencies.

Creating a Level III trauma center would require round-the-clock availability of general surgeons, orthopedic surgeons and anesthesiologists, she said.

UNM Health Sciences Chancellor Paul Roth addressed the Sandoval County Commission last month, saying he thought the tax could mean “a much healthier community.”

“I’m an emergency physician so I’m keenly aware of the need for a trauma center that would allow care for critically injured Sandoval County residents within that ‘golden hour’ that I’m sure you’re familiar with,” he said.

The metro area’s only existing trauma center is UNM Hospital in Albuquerque, which has the most comprehensive Level I designation. The next-closest is the Level III Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center in Santa Fe, according to New Mexico Department of Health listings.

Silva-Steele said SRMC could have served more victims from July’s catastrophic bus crash outside Algodones if it had been a trauma center. The hospital did treat nine people from the accident – most of what she called “walking wounded” – but the entire UNM health system treated 22.

“Had we had Level III (services) we probably could’ve off-loaded some of the patients that came down to UNM Hospital, because we would’ve had the available teams in place,” she said.

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