Dr. Roland Sanchez said the time is ripe for a new medical facility for the county.

“The population is here for a hospital,” said Sanchez. “You have 67,000 people. This is a rebirth. The need has always been here.”

Hoping to gain support from area doctors, the Valencia County Medical Facility Study Committee sent invitation letters to physicians and their staff to attend Tuesday’s meeting at the Belen Community Center. Sanchez pointed out that the former hospital in Belen had its critics, “but they (the hospital and its staff) were there at three in the morning when their babies were delivered,” he said.

Sanchez, born and raised in Belen, talked about the county’s former 24-bed hospital. Originally, a lot of money for the hospital came from the First National Bank, Sanchez said. However, a mill levy was required to support the hospital, and, when it did not pass, the hospital became a clinic.

The committee, now chaired by Ellen Syvertson after the recent resignation of Dr. Manual Gamez, invited physicians, assistants and nurses to give their input regarding the type of future medical facility and possible financing. Right now, the county even lacks an urgent care center that stays open later than 8 p.m.

Presbyterian Family Healthcare on Christopher Road in Belen currently closes at 7 p.m., while First Choice Community Healthcare of Los Lunas closes at 8 p.m. Presbyterian’s facility does keep its doors open on Saturdays and Sundays until 5 p.m., while First Choice closes on weekends.

“We must enhance the EMS services as part of any plan,” said Dr. Philip Froman, director of emergency medical services (EMS) for the county. “We really need to consider a free-standing ER (emergency room), as part of any facility,” he said.

The committee, having met three times, will meet again on July 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the county courthouse. Gamez, the former chairman, resigned because he was unable to devote enough time to the committee due to his busy medical practice, Syvertson said.

In addition to Sanchez and Froman, other physicians attending Tuesday’s meeting included Dr. Rick Madden, Dr. Mark Sanchez and Dr. Martha Chipi. Also attending were Cathy Barbee of the West Mesa United Community Association and Teresa Scott of the Valley Improvement Association. Nurses and physician assistants were also invited, but none attended.

Madden, of Belen’s Pres-byterian Family Healthcare, suggested that the committee focus on the “payer issue.”

“We have a very high uninsured rate in the county,” Madden said.

He also pointed out that county residents failed to support a medical facility with a mill levy.

“The county resoundingly voted down the mill levy, three to one, in 1990, which would have been about $60 per household,” Madden said. “A free-standing facility will need the tax money to support it.”

Madden recommended tapping the business community to help lay the groundwork for a future medical facility.

“I don’t think you can do anything until you get all of the local insurance plans to cooperate Presbyterian, Lovelace,” said Dr. Mark Sanchez.

Committee member Dr. William Hardy, who spearheaded the drive to enlist county physician support, mentioned that certain foundations could be contacted in order to obtain building funds.

Chipi brought up the idea of using medical interns to help staff part of any proposed facility. She also mentioned the importance of getting a good emergency room.

“My clients want a good, solid ER,” Chipi said. “If you can get the funding, you will get the patients.”

County physicians realize the need for a new medical facility, but funding sources remain to be determined.

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Bruce Warren