To build or not at UNMH?

We have two recent newspaper columns, one by Ron Stern, the CEO of Lovelace, the other by Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins. Stern argues that a bed-sharing agreement could save taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while Stebbins says that is not the case. I happen to agree with Stern, so I want to address the points Stebbins makes in today’s paper.

Stebbins’ first point is that UNMH is New Mexico’s only Level 1 trauma center and that such patients cannot be shifted to other hospitals. It is true that UNMH is the state’s only Level 1 trauma center and it is also true that shifting those patients to other hospitals is not a workable solution, but that doesn’t mean that every patient at UNMH is a “Level 1” patient that could not be shifted elsewhere. It has been noted that many of the new beds at the $146 million UNMH expansion will be “elective.” These are not Level 1 by definition.

The Commissioner’s other point is that Medicaid expansion will create an influx of additional patients into New Mexico’s health care system. This may be true, but it doesn’t follow that New Mexico will need more Level 1 trauma beds or even another hospital. In fact, it would be far more cost-effective to build community clinics that help avoid the need for high-cost emergency rooms.

Stebbins seems to be saying that more people will get shot or will have car accidents when Medicaid is expanded. That is just silly.

There is no doubt that easy solutions to our local health care issues are scarce, but the onus of proof must be on those looking to construct this expensive, taxpayer-financed hospital. It seems that Lovelace has made a reasonable proposal for an alternative. Opponents of that solution must come up with some better arguments than those put forth by Stebbins.