Valencia County commissioners have decided to see if a collaboration with the University of New Mexico Hospital is feasible in the hopes of getting the much-delayed hospital project going.

At the Oct. 2 Valencia County Commission meeting, Commissioner David Carlberg said in light of a recent meeting between the commission and a handful of local legislators, exploring options with UNM-H directly was the best next step for the county.

“We need to reach out to UNM and if it’s rejected, come back and look at what our other options are,” Carlberg said.

Commissioners discussed the future of the hospital project in mid September with various state legislators to gauge what could be done to make the facility a reality.

Options discussed included redefining the regulatory language that defined a “hospital,” having the Legislature draft a law that would allow the more than $26 million in taxpayer funds to be used at a facility that wasn’t strictly defined as a “hospital,” or redefining the use of the money.

At the most recent meeting, Commissioner Gerard Saiz said he didn’t want to give the impression to legislators the county was dropping the hospital in their laps.

“I’m not sure what the ask is going to be from them,” Saiz said.

“If there is interest from UNM, it’s worth exploring, but we need to be cautious in our approach and moving forward.”

Commissioner David Hyder agreed, saying after the September meeting with the legislators, “there was some perception from them and the public that it was almost like hot potato and we’re trying to pass the issue on to them.”

Hyder asked if members of the local legislative delegation had to be the ones to approach UNM or if the county could contact the university directly.

County attorney Dave Pato said there was no legislative requirement to have the legislators engage UNM.

“It’s up to the board if they want to explore the possibility and, if so, how to go about it,” Pato said.

Commissioner Charles Eaton said the legislators at the meeting were looking to the commission for input and direction, and noted it would be prudent to follow through.

“Give them suggestions of what we’re looking to them to do in terms of legislation or engagement to connect with UNM-H,” Eaton said.

“Ultimately, the hospital is a county-driven issue and we need to drive the decision process.”

If UNM decided it was not interested in the project, Eaton said the county needs to contemplate legislative involvement or, alternatively, look at what needs to be done in the procurement process to engage providers.

In the county’s most recent effort to find a provider for the project, no one responded to its request for proposal.

County Manager Danny Monette said he received a call from Sen. Liz Stefanics, who attended the meeting last month via phone, and she indicated the county might have to re-purpose the money, which would have to go back out to the public for a vote.

“If UNM were to do something, they could approach the Legislature to get funding to get the ball rolling,” Monette said.

After a failed contract with Lovelace last year, Commission Chairman Jhonathan Aragon said the county attempted a last-minute partnership with UNM-H.

“We tried to get them involved to see if they would approach the Legislature,” Aragon said. “Them being a local hospital and having the teaching program at UNM-Valencia campus, they are definitely a great company to come in.

“But I don’t want to exclude any company.”

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Julia M. Dendinger began working at the VCNB in 2006. She covers Valencia County government, Belen Consolidated Schools and the village of Bosque Farms. She is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists Rio Grande chapter’s board of directors.