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UNM Hospital Project Delayed

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The University of New Mexico’s proposed $146 million hospital was delayed again Tuesday after the state Board of Finance voted to postpone action, with a majority saying they need more information.

They said potential approval should be delayed until after the Nov. 6 presidential election. Members said they were concerned that the need for new beds could change if the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, is repealed, which is a campaign promise of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Paul Roth said the need for those extra beds won’t change, regardless of the Affordable Care Act’s fate. The issue at hand is current overcrowding, he said.

In previous presentations, UNM had stated that the Affordable Care Act would create a need for more hospital beds in the Albuquerque market over the next 10 years.

Roth said he was disappointed in the decision but glad to provide more information to the board.

UNM has support from numerous community members, including Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry, Bernalillo County commissioner Art De La Cruz, several Native American groups and the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce. Many spoke in support of the hospital Tuesday.

The presentation came one month after it was originally scheduled. UNM postponed its request for approval in September after criticism that it had not sought community comment. It held a series of town hall meetings to answer questions from the public.

The hospital would be an extension of UNMH, the state’s only level 1 trauma center. At 96 beds, it would alleviate overcrowding at UNMH’s emergency department, UNM says.

Wait times at UNMH can reach 36 hours, and the hospital is consistently above 90 percent occupancy. The national standard is 75 percent.

UNM already has received approval from the university’s Health Sciences Center board, from regents and from the state Higher Education Department. The Board of Finance is the last hurdle before UNM gets final approval from regents and can move forward with the project.

UNM officials had planned on beginning construction this month, but the next Board of Finance meeting won’t be until Nov. 20.

Questions went on for more than two hours at Tuesday’s meeting and revolved around everything from UNM’s commitment to provide indigent care, to how it would fund the new hospital, to whether Obamacare will affect demand for health care in emergency rooms.

UNM is using on-hand cash reserves to pay for the hospital, and is not asking for any additional funding.

“I think Obamacare could be a game changer,” member Michael Brasher said. “I’d like to know for sure how things turn out at the end of the election because things may be different at the end of the election.” Brasher made the motion to delay a decision until next month, and the vote was 3-2 in favor.

Brasher, Lt. Gov. John Sanchez and Robert J. Aragon voted to postpone the decision. Sam Spencer and James Lewis voted against postponement.

Roth said a delay would not be a problem, but he insisted there was no correlation between the president’s health care plan and the current bed needs.

“The need will not change, regardless of what the outcome of the election is,” Roth said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal