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UNMH officials make the case for new 408-bed hospital

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — University of New Mexico Hospital officials outlined plans Tuesday for a new $600 million hospital intended to reduce wait times for emergency room patients, better handle an expected growth in the state’s senior population, and increase the number of patients that UNMH can accept from other hospitals.

The 408-bed adult acute care and behavioral health hospital, located northwest of Lomas and University NE, would offer care for 360 adult medical and surgical patients, and an additional 48 behavioral health patients, UNMH officials told Bernalillo County commissioners. UNMH anticipates an 18-month planning phase followed by a three-year buildout for the project.

Project funding would come from a combination of Federal Housing Authority bonds and internal UNMH funding, though the precise mix of those funds remains undetermined, UNM Health Sciences Center Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth said.

“We receive referrals from all over the state for care that only UNM can provide,” Roth said. “We have had to decline transfers because there are no beds.”

UNMH provides information to commissioners because county taxpayers pay about $90 million a year in property taxes for UNMH operations. Commissioners listened to UNMH’s presentation at Tuesday’s work session.

A previous UNMH plan to build a 96-bed, $146 million acute care hospital stalled three years ago after several groups and people – notably Lovelace Health System CEO Ron Stern – objected that the facility would take business from other hospitals. For this project, Roth said UNMH has met with officials at area hospitals in an attempt to get buy-in for the project.

“We’re not going for any more market share,” he said. “We’re just trying to care for patients we’re already responsible for.”

UNMH accepted 5,927 patients from other hospitals in 2015, but rejected an estimated 809 patients last year because of a shortage of beds at the hospital that now has 308 beds, according to data provided to commissioners.

Space limitations required UNMH emergency department patients to wait an average of 10 hours for an available acute care bed last year and up to 72 hours in some cases, the data shows.

An aging population is expected to drive demand at UNMH, said Dr. Michael Richards, UNMH chief of staff. The population of New Mexicans ages 65 to 84 is expected to grow at an annual rate of 3.2 percent a year in the coming decade, far exceeding the state’s overall population growth of 1 percent a year, he said.

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