Commissioners mistakenly sign hospital contract in July

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The Valencia County Commission may have unknowingly signed a blank check last year — to the tune of $22 million — in the form of a contract with a health care provider for the hospital.

The Valencia County Commission may have unknowingly signed a blank check last year — to the tune of $22 million — in the form of a contract with a health care provider for the hospital.

At a court hearing earlier this month, Belen attorney Charles Rennick said he had been told the city had signed a contract with Ameris Acquistions.

When the News-Bulletin requested a copy of the contract from the city, a copy of a health care facilities contract signed by the president of Ameris Acquisitions and three county commissioners was provided.

When Valencia County Commission Chairman Charles Eaton and county attorney Dave Pato were asked how the contract came to be signed, both were surprised by its existence.

Pato said the commissioners have only ever considered approval of a memorandum of agreement with Belen.

"The commission never considered approval of a contract with a provider," Pato said. "The board fully anticipated Belen would advise them of the selected provider and, provided the other conditions of the agreement were satisfied, (the commissioners) would execute the health care facility contract."

Eaton said the full intent and action by the commission last year was to consider the memorandum of agreement between the county and the city.

"The facilities contract attached to the MOA was a contract that would be executed when Belen fulfilled its part of the MOA," Eaton said.

Pato said the commissioners will have to evaluate the circumstances of the signing of the contract and determine how best to proceed.

There is a special commission meeting at 3:15 p.m., tomorrow at the county administrative building, 444 Luna Ave. in Los Lunas.

The HCF contract was signed by Eaton, Commissioner Mary Andersen and former commissioner Donald Holliday on July 17, the same day the commission approved an agreement with Belen to allow the city to put out a request for proposal to select a health care provider for the hospital.

Both Eaton and Pato said the HCF contract was mistakenly signed during the signing of other documents at the meeting.

It was signed by Ameris Acquisitions President and CEO K. Robert Bauer Jr. on Nov. 19, 2013.

The HCF contract was drawn up by Pato and law partner Adren Nance, Pato said, at the request of the commission. During the July 17 meeting, the HCF contract was presented as "a proposed form of contract," Pato said.

"It was attached as Exhibit B. The MOA required Belen to incorporate the proposed form of the contract into its request for proposal," Pato said.

Rennick said he misspoke at the hearing and was referring to the contract between Ameris and the county.

He said he was not in a position to provide information as to why the city had the contract between Valencia County and Ameris, and the county did not.

"Whatever procedures the county followed were their procedures," he said. "I don't consider this an issue. Everything is in place. I think the county is going to follow through with the provisions of the agreement."

Frank Schupp, Ameris' vice president for business development, said the company has been moving forward in accordance with the terms of its agreement with Belen.

When asked about the HCF contract, Schupp said Ameris was selected by Belen and the city was the communicator for the project.

"I was not cognizant that the county was unaware of the contract," he said. "We have been doing everything we needed to under our agreement with Belen."

On July 17, the commissioners voted 3-2 to enter into an agreement with the city to allow Belen to issue an RFP for a health care provider. Under the terms of the MOA, the county would contract with Belen's provider of choice.

"If all the actions are accomplished in six months to the satisfaction of this agreement, the county will enter into a health care facility contract," Commissioner Mary Andersen said at the July meeting. "It's been a long time getting to this point. I am confident what we are trying to do this evening will protect the county and the $20 million in taxpayer funds."

Eaton, Andersen and Holliday voted in favor of the agreement with the city, while commissioners Alicia Aguilar and Lawrence Romero voted against.

According to the agreement, the county will execute a health-care facilities contract with the provider selected by the city 45 days after the selection of a provider and the final resolution of any protests to the procurement.

The HCF contract will transfer the collected mill levy funds for the operation and maintenance of the hospital to the provider incrementally during five years.

The MOA was approved unanimously by Belen city councilors on July 25.


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