VC invites Belen, LL to talk about both hospitals

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All cards will be on the table later this month when the two municipalities competing for a local hospital project go before the Valencia County commissioners to present their plans on Wednesday, Feb. 20.

At the Jan. 23 meeting, Commissioner Alicia Aguilar said the village of Los Lunas had contacted the county, requesting time on the Feb. 20 agenda to present information on its hospital project.

Darin Miller, CEO of Oklahoma City-based Miller Architects, has an exclusive agreement with the village to develop, build and manage a hospital in Los Lunas. In recent months, Miller announced that Lovelace Health System will be the health care provider for the facility.

"I am asking that we allow them to give a presentation," Aguilar said. "We should look at the positives — we have two entities vying to build a hospital."

The city of Belen has been working toward building a hospital on city-owned property on Christopher Road since 2011.

"I think if Belen wants to, they can come forward at the same meeting," Aguilar said. "I am making the request."

Chairman Charles Eaton, in an interview with the News-Bulletin, said invitations have been extended to Los Lunas and Belen to appear before the commissioners on Feb. 20 to give "in-depth presentations on where both projects are. It's important the commission, as a whole, is brought up to speed with both projects and what they can offer the community for health care."

Eaton said the competition between the two facilities has "fragmented the community in general. When the referendum (for the mill levy) was passed ultimately it was to provide health care for all residents. Unfortunately it has gotten to this point."

The chairman said city officials have come before the commissioners "several times," to garner support for its project and to push for the commissioner's signatures on the joint powers agreement between the two entities, which has yet to be approved by the state.

"Los Lunas has gone to everyone except county. I wish they would have come sooner, involved the county a little sooner," Eaton said. "It's not a good feeling when someone is going to other entities soliciting support when, bottom line is, they need county support to go forward."

During the Jan. 23 meeting, County Manager Bruce Swingle said he met with Los Lunas officials to discuss some questions commissioners had raised.

The first issue, the location of the hospital, is set, Swingle said.

"We asked if it was possible for Miller to move the hospital to any other site in Valencia County," Swingle said. "The answer was categorically 'no.' They said there is no other site, based on their research, that would accommodate a successful hospital."

The second issue raised concerned where gross receipts taxes would be paid. Swingle said commissioners had asked if the hospital remained in Los Lunas, could a satellite office be opened elsewhere, taking the GRT to another jurisdiction.

"I was told the GRT will rest with the Los Lunas hospital since all administrative functions will be done there," he said.

And taking a moment of personal privilege, Commissioner Mary Andersen addressed comments made about her in an article in the Jan. 9 edition of the Valencia County News-Bulletin.

In the article, Steve Tomita, the city's planning and zoning director, said he was presenting the idea of creating the hospital health care facility contract to the council after he got the "go ahead" from Andersen.

The article was published while she was out of town and unable to return phone calls to the paper seeking comment on the matter.

"I did not. It's incredible Mr. Tomita made such a statement," Andersen said. "I'm sure he is aware I have no such authority."

The city is drafting the health care facilities contract and has created and issued a request for qualification and information for a health care provider/hospital management company.

Ameris Management Services LLC, a Nashville company, was the sole company to respond. Ameris is the same company that was paid $49,999 by the city of Belen to create the site-specific feasibility study for the city-owned Christopher Road property.

Both those actions were done by the city council alone, despite the joint powers agreement between it and the county stipulating that a request for proposal be drawn up and issued jointly, and that the HCF contract be "offered" by the county.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.