Belen chooses to put out a hospital RFQ

........................................................................................................................................................................................

The city of Belen is pursuing an alternative avenue to ascertain which firms are interested in developing, managing and operating the proposed Belen hospital, and possibly choose a firm for the project.

A draft of a request for qualifications may be completed as early as next week, said Steve Tomita, the city's planning and zoning director.

This decision comes after the Valencia County Commission didn't place an amendment to the joint powers agreement between the city and county to its Nov. 7 agenda.

The joint powers agreement, adopted by both entities, outlines the relationship and roles between the city and county regarding the development and operation of a proposed hospital along Christopher Road near Interstate 25 in Belen.

Belen city councilors approved the amendment at their Nov. 5 meeting, which would allow the city to issue a request for proposals while the county verifies the results from a hospital feasibility study released in April.

The feasibility study, completed by Ameris Management Services LLC., found a hospital with 28 medical/surgical beds and 12 geriatric psychiatric beds, along with basic medical/surgical, diagnostics and a 24-hour level one emergency service is "a financially viable endeavor" at the Christopher Road site.

The amendment would change the part of the joint powers agreements which states that both parties will "jointly issue a request for proposal" for a lease or other acquisition of the Belen site from the city for construction and operation of a hospital facility.

This would occur 90 days after verifying the results in a financial feasibility study through either an internal evaluation, consisting of commissioners and staff, or by hiring an independent consultant to provide an independent feasibility validation report deciding if a hospital is "successful and sustainable" at the Belen site.

After the county commission meeting last week, Tomita said he asked two commissioners if the amendment would be placed on the next commission agenda, but, according to the city's planning and zoning director, they informed him they didn't want to do that.

That's when Tomita suggested moving forward with a request for qualifications instead, to which, he said, commissioners said to do so.

"The commission said it sounded like a good logical step and it should have been made in the first place," Tomita said.

Rescinding the amendment was, therefore, not needed "with the county not taking any action on it. It's dead, because they're not going to move forward with it," Tomita said.

When Tomita brought the RFQ idea back to the mayor, city manager and one city councilor, they gave him the green light to pursue an RFQ, Tomita said.

"Why keep delaying and keep delaying? We're getting phone calls from people that want to submit qualifications and proposals and they keep asking, 'Are you going to do this or not?'" Tomita said. "We need to do this and quit delaying and move forward."

Commissioner Mary Andersen said she did speak to Tomita about the JPA amendment in passing after the commission meeting on Nov. 7.

"I don't know about the others, but I told him it wasn't my place to put it on the agenda; it was the chairman's," Andersen said. "He was talking mostly about how Belen could move forward. He was telling me what he was planning to do, and I didn't disagree with him."

Commission Chairman Don Holliday said he didn't speak to Tomita after the meeting, but was willing to look over the amendment and do whatever it takes to get a hospital built.

"We're willing to work with Belen to get this up and running," Holliday said. "People say that we're not doing anything, but we're trying to get something done for a hospital in Valencia county."

County Manager Bruce Swingle said he received the amendment to the JPA from Belen via email, but then received a call from Tomita saying not to put it on the commission agenda for consideration because it was "really not necessary."

A request for qualifications will identify who is interested in the Belen site hospital project and highlight each firm's qualifications and experience.

According to Mike Vinyard, the county's purchasing agent, an RFQ is similar to a request for information, where a request is put out to a certain industry to gather information about a service or produce a body is interesting in providing or purchasing.

Once the responses to the RFQ are collected, Vinyard said caution must exercised when putting together a subsequent request for proposal.

"You want to be sure you don't tailor the RFP to one set of qualifications or information," Vinyard said.

This process may pinpoint which hospital developer would be the perfect fit for this project, Tomita said.

"What we're doing now is issuing the RFQ that will allow us to find what sort of entities are interested, what they bring to the table and from there we can make a determination as to how to proceed — if we need an RFP and how we would need to do that," said Councilor Jerah Cordova.

If two companies present similar qualifications as a possible hospital developer for the proposed hospital, choosing one may become a two-step process. The city would then issue a request for proposals to pick one firm.

A request for proposal would highlight the cost of building, maintaining and operating a hospital, which isn't included in an RFQ.

"We're not financing the hospital," Tomita said. "We don't have anything to do with the cost of the hospital. That's why starting with an RFQ is more appropriate."

Belen Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said he's in favor of whatever the next appropriate step is to keep the ball rolling on the proposed hospital.