Fate of hospitals pending

By Christina Calloway

Local hospital administrators say the fate of the state’s rural hospitals is now in the hands of the state Human Services Department.

The agency must find an additional $9 million for an indigent health care fund in order to trigger a federal match.

Funding indigent care was a hot-button issue in the Legislature. County officials were asked by the state to supply additional tax money to the Safety Net Care Pool, the state’s indigent fund, at the expense of the indigent services they fund in their communities.

Rural hospitals were in the cross hairs of the fight because without a 3-1 federal match of the fund, hospitals said they will have to cut services and some are at risk of closing.

Legislators were able to clear one hurdle with the House passing Senate Bill 268 earlier this week to ensure an estimated $36 million for the fund. But with $9 million coming from the general fund and the rest coming from a 1/12th percent gross receipts tax imposed by counties, the fund is still short another $9 million needed to get matching federal dollars.

Rep. Dennis Roch, R-Logan, said he voted against the bill because it didn’t completely fund the Safety Net Care Pool fund. Roch said he’s worried hospitals may not see the federal match.

“We’re going to basically leave an additional $40 million on the table and not use it to support our rural hospitals,” Roch said. “Nobody wants that.”

Roch said through the budge process, there is language that says HSD is given authority to use $9 million in reserve funds to make up for the shortfall.

“HSD is now responsible for providing the rest and I’m hoping they’ll be proactive in doing that,” Roch said.

Plains Regional Medical Center Administrator Hoyt Skabelund said there’s hope HSD will identify funding. He said he feels let down by the Legislature for leaving a $9 million gap.

“Obviously we are very disappointed the program has not been fully funded,” Skabelund said. “We are biting our nails and hoping (HSD) understands the absolute importance of being fully funded in this program.”

Roosevelt General Hospital CEO Larry Leaming is more optimistic about the state’s next steps to fund the Safety Net Care Pool.

“RGH wishes to thank our state legislators for their hard work bringing this important issue forward,” Leaming said. “They have carried the ball for indigent care in New Mexico and now it’s time for the state and Governor (Susana) Martinez to secure the future of indigent care funding.”

Leaming has said RGH would be at risk of massive layoffs and reduced services without the federal match. He said he’s confident state officials will make the right decisions.

“We have full faith and confidence in Governor Martinez and her ability to protect access to health care for the people of rural New Mexico.”