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Commission diverts mill-levy money to COVID-19 care

UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The Sandoval County Commission has granted a request from UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center for help funding COVID-19 operations by diverting hospital mill-levy money from behavioral health services and physical-trauma care.

Sandoval County Detention Center will still get its portion of behavioral-health money from the levy.

The commission passed the amendment to the funding agreement in a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Michael Meek, District 3, voting no during the meeting Thursday.

“This goes for four years, and the first thing that is dropped off every year is the behavioral health, which seemed to be our big issue when this first started,” he said.

Commissioners Katherine Bruch, District 1, and Jay Block, District 2, emphasized that this amendment is temporary.

The change allows for money to be diverted for COVID-19 care as needed, with no specified amount, for up to four years.

SRMC will provide a monthly report of how the mill-levy funds are being used. Commissioners will have the option every month to vote to send the money back to the former arrangement.

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, Sandoval County has had over 500 cases of COVID-19, and according to the Sandoval County website, as of press time, there have been 14 deaths.

Since March 6, SRMC has canceled or postponed services that require a lot of personal protective equipment, said hospital President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele during the meeting.

Those services include:

• 636 surgeries;

• 510 intestinal procedures;

• 214 interventional radiology procedures;

• 61 special procedures;

• 1,507 clinic visits;

• 825 radiology diagnostic procedures; and

• 390 rehab physical therapy and occupational therapy visits.

SRMC staff spent the next six weeks redesigning the hospital’s environment, Silva-Steele said.

“Not one thing in the environment is the same any longer,” she said.

The hospital has spent $1.3 million on COVID-19 preparedness, with about $700,000 for personnel and the remainder for supplies and other types of purchases, Silva-Steele said.

The hospital is projecting a $4.3 million loss, she said.

She said the closures at SRMC and inability to see patients have affected the amount of money the hospital is taking in, causing a decline in cash on hand.

Silva-Steele said the hospital might be in this financial state for one to two years.

SRMC received over $1 million from the Health and Human Services Stimulus on April 10 and over $600,000 from the HHS Stimulus again April 24, Silva-Steele said.

“Those helped us address immediate issues we were seeing in April, with purchases of supplies and equipment,” she said.

To further aid the hospital, the state awarded about $200,000 April 21, Silva-Steele said. The hospital is working on saving about $12 million by refinancing its mortgage.

Hospital leaders are working very hard to have no furloughs or layoffs, Silva-Steele said. They have further tightened their budget by:

• Freezing non-essential part-time openings;

• Continuing to evaluate all position openings;

• Eliminating overtime;

• Withholding management incentives; and

• Re-evaluating all capital purchases.

“Our most important resource is our health-care team, our workers, and ensuring that they have a state of wellbeing,” she said.

Silva-Steele said a consideration in reopening is health-care providers having the ability and resources to cope with post-traumatic stress.

“There is a lot of things considered in reopening; it is not just a flick of a switch,” she said.

This re-examination of the budget deals with immediate issues like PPE and preparing for issues like the dual system of COVID-19 care and non-COVID-19 care the hospital will now use.

To cope with these measures, Silva-Steele asked commissioners Thursday night to use funding in the mill levy voters approved in the November 2018 election. According to the county health facilities agreement, this property tax is part of the Hospital Funding Act providing money for medical, surgical, behavioral-health and emergency services.

The mill levy’s projected revenue is over $7 million with an estimated excess of about $2.2 million, Silva-Steele said.

The $7 million is divided among Sandoval County Detention Center, other behavioral health services and physical-trauma treatment, according to a PowerPoint presentation Silva-Steele created.

The funds being diverted would include money earmarked for behavioral health — not including the services at the detention center — and trauma care, said Sandoval County Attorney Robin Hammer.

The levy’s projected revenue for behavioral health is $1.6 million with an estimated excess of about $700,000, according to the PowerPoint. The mill levy’s projected revenue for trauma is $5.1 million with an estimated excess of about $2.2 million.

The next Sandoval County Commission meeting will be at 6 p.m. June 4.

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