Plans for a $600 million project that includes building a new University of New Mexico Hospital moved forward Friday even as old tensions about the project surfaced, with a former regent blasting the current regent president and the governor over previous project delays.
All voting members of the Health Sciences Center Board of Directors approved a measure that would allow hospital administrators to start the process of hiring an architect to develop preliminary designs for a new adult-care and surgical hospital, possibly off University Boulevard and Camino de Salud near UNM’s cancer center.
The new hospital would replace and expand beds at the current hospital, located on Lomas east of the proposed new building. The new hospital would offer beds for 360 adult medical and surgical patients, and for 48 behavioral health patients. UNMH anticipates an 18-month planning phase followed by a three-year build-out for the project.
The project would also include a new medical office building.
The proposal to move forward with a preliminary plan must still be approved by the full board of regents, which is scheduled to meet Thursday.
Construction of the new hospital will require approval by the Health Sciences board, the regents, the state’s department of higher education and state board of finance.
Friday’s meeting featured comment from doctors lamenting what they said is the current insufficient infrastructure of the UNM Hospital on Lomas. Operating rooms are too small. Facilities are out of date. The geriatric center and its 12 patients had to be relocated because a heating system broke on Friday.
UNMH is the only Level I trauma center in the state, which means it provides care in areas such as burns, stroke and neurology that isn’t available at community hospitals. In the past year, it treated nearly 6,000 patients from around the state, but has had to turn away 800 people, some with serious medical conditions, because the 308 available beds were full, officials said.
“This is one of the most pressing and urgent health care needs for the people of New Mexico and is the most pressing facility project for the University of New Mexico,” said Martha McGrew, executive vice dean for the UNM school of medicine.
Nearly four years ago, UNMH sought permission to build a 96-bed, $146 million facility. The HSC board of directors, the UNM regents and the state higher education department all gave the required OKs, but the proposal stalled at the state board of finance, which has the final say.
The board of finance raised questions, and UNMH went back to the drawing board.
Lovelace Health Systems opposed the project at that time, as did some grassroots groups that felt the money would be better spent on community health efforts.
The Health Sciences Board consists of five UNM regents and two community members who are appointed by the Regents president. The chairman of the UNM Hospital Board of Trustees also sits on the board as a non-voting member.
Some long-standing tension over the hospital’s delay manifested itself at Friday’s meeting.
Mel Eaves, a former UNM regent and a current member of the Health Sciences Board of Directors, said the remodel is long overdue. He chastised the board of finance, which is chaired by Gov. Susana Martinez and whose members she appoints.
“Everyone who tried to delay this hospital should be ashamed of themselves,” Eaves said.
Eaves also suggested that, at the urging of Martinez, Jack Fortner, president of the UNM regents and a member of the Health Sciences Center board, removed two regents from the HSC board who supported the hospital remodel.
But Fortner, who gives regents their assignments, said he moved regents Suzanne Quillen and Lt. General Bradley C. Hosmer from the Health Sciences Board to keep the regents subcommittees diverse.
Fortner, who voted in favor of the hospital plan Friday morning, denied the allegation by Eaves.
“That’s just not true,” he said. “I support the hospital.”
Additionally, Fortner said he wanted to sit on the committee in charge of the hospital and medical school. He said the governor or her administration never reached out to him regarding the new facility.
Quillen declined to speak about Eaves’ remarks. Hosmer also said he couldn’t speak as to why he was removed from the board. The governor’s spokesman Michael Lonergan also denied Eaves’ statements. “The bottom line is this: A project costing hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars deserves scrutiny and due diligence,” he said. “No one should expect a project that could cost upwards of half a billion dollars to be rubber-stamped.”