Belen officials to file injunction over LL hospital resolution

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The city of Belen plan to file an injunction to stop the distribution of a resolution and position statement passed by the village of Los Lunas, which city officials say contains "blatantly false and misleading" information about the proposed Belen hospital.

Belen City Manager Mary Lucy Baca said the injunction will be filed in the 13th Judicial District Court.

The "erroneous" information included in the resolution makes the Christopher Road site look as if "it's not at all the place to put a hospital," Baca said.

She was "appalled that (the village) would stoop that low to try to get the hospital at their location."

"I believe that they have presented a lot of erroneous information to make it seem that their location is the best but people don't know that," she said.

City officials released a six-page point-by-point response to the resolution that presents a side-by-side comparison between the two competing hospital proposals in Valencia County — the Valencia Regional Medical Center and the Belen hospital.

The city has also requested to be placed on the Valencia County Commission's earliest agenda to make a presentation correcting the statements made about the Belen hospital project in the resolution.

"I think the resolution is abusive and divisive. It is not appropriate in any way for a government in Valencia County to be so aggressively attacking another municipality," said Belen City Councilor Jerah Cordova.

The purpose of the village's resolution, approved by the Los Lunas Village Council on April 4, was to garner support and inform citizens about the VRMC that is being developed by Darin Miller and Associates to be built west of Interstate 25 on N.M. 6 in Los Lunas.

Village Administrator Gregory Martin said the village will use a marketing specialist to distribute the resolution through "various traditional advertising campaign methods."

Cordova said since a number of points are "blatantly false or intentionally misleading," city officials were concerned about further distribution of the resolution.

Of the "false and misleading" information contained in the resolution, Cordova said there were two errors that were quite substantial.

The resolution claimed funding for the proposed Belen hospital would "depend on public financing through the issuance of revenue bonds," which Cordova said isn't the case.

On numerous occasions, Stern Brothers & Co., a Chicago-based investment banking firm, expressed its interest in financing the $57 million proposed hospital, which may include start-up costs, through private funding.

"In the most recent letter, they clearly stated that they would not need the city of Belen's or Valencia County's bonding capacity in order to finance the project, which means they don't need to publicly finance this hospital and can do it privately," Cordova said.

The four-page resolution also "attacked" the credibility and reputation of Ameris Management Services, LLC, the Nashville company who will develop, manage and operate the proposed Belen hospital, Cordova said. Ameris is the same company that was paid $49,999 by the city of Belen last year to create the site-specific feasibility study for the city-owned Christopher Road property.

The resolution insinuates that Ameris has run struggling and bankrupt hospitals, which can be misleading, Cordova said.

Cordova said Ameris develops new hospitals and specializes in stepping into struggling hospitals to make them financially successful before turning them back over to the community.

In one instance, Cordova says, Ameris was not able to help a hospital, since it was in "extreme distress and was unlikely to succeed" by the time they stepped in. That hospital later filed for bankruptcy and Ameris is among the bankruptcy creditors seeking payment for their services, Belen's response states.

City officials were directed by city attorney Marcus Rael of Robles, Rael and Aragon, PC, in Albuquerque, as to what the city's course of action could be to correct the misinformation stated in the resolution.

Before creating their own position statement, the city considered multiple options as to how they could respond to the resolution, which "is blatantly false in multiple parts, very misleading and inappropriate to come from a government," Cordova said.

The resolution's alleged misinformation was a "big disappointment" to city officials, since they have been careful not to openly or aggressively criticize or question the Los Lunas project, Cordova said.

"We are focusing on our project and making it the best project possible," he said. "That's where we're concentrating our time. The village of Los Lunas doesn't do that. They don't spend time focusing on their project. They spend time hiring marketing managers and putting out an aggressive, divisive resolution that does nothing to progress the issue."

Cordova said the city's response to the resolution needed to be carefully planned to avoid going back and forth with the village.

"We're trying to avoid a tit-for-tat with Los Lunas," Cordova said. "We don't want to get into a back and forth fight with Los Lunas. We don't think that's appropriate."

Mayor Rudy Jaramillo said he was "very unhappy" about the "misinformation" the village approved in the resolution.

"They should've looked up the facts instead of saying what they said," Jaramillo said. "I don't know why they did the resolution in that manner, because there's much misinformation."

Councilor Wayne Gallegos said he understands the village is trying to do what it needs to do for the community, but said the village's approach to garner support for their hospital from neighboring communities appears to be a pressure tactic.

"If I was the community they were asking (to sign the statement), before I would agree to it, I would make sure that the information is all correct on it before I say, 'Yes, I'm fully supporting this,'" Gallegos said.

A copy of Belen's response to the village's resolution will be available on the city's website, as well as distributed in water bills.


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