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Bernalillo County Approves Agreement with University of New Mexico Hospital

Bernalillo County – The Bernalillo County Commission Tuesday night approved a memorandum of understanding with the University of  New Mexico Hospital (UNMH) and the Indian Health Service, which broadly outlines how UNMH will use mill levy funds toward the operations and maintenance of UNMH, which includes the provision of indigent health care. Both UNMH and the Indian Health Service must also approve the agreement.

UNMH receives about $95 million a year in voter-approved mill levy property taxes designated for operations of the hospital. The majority of Bernalillo County voters supported this measure in November 2016.

The mill levy question is placed on the ballot for voter approval every eight years. The Bernalillo County Treasurer’s Office collects and distributes the property tax funds to UNMH.

The memorandum of understanding and supporting exhibits cover a range of objectives in the areas of reporting and interaction, accountability and transparency, primary care/low-income care, financial assistance, and Native American care, and behavioral mental health and substance abuse care that UNMH will address, including:

  • Report quarterly to the Board of County Commissioners, providing updates on hospital operations, including budget and programmatic changes
  • Establish mechanisms for the public to provide input on medical and behavioral health operations, planning and development
  • Work on increasing its number of primary care facilities the next four years
  • Decrease emergency room waiting times
  • Improve general health care services available to Native Americans
  • Recruit and train specialists in medical specialties most needed by Native Americans; work with Indian Health Service to provide Native American patients access to specialty clinics
  • Evaluate the use of telemedicine consultation between Metropolitan Detention Center and UNMH
  • Provide professional staff for a downtown Metropolitan Detention Center triage center for individuals brought in by law enforcement; provide case management services to county’s Resource Re-entry Center for people released from the Metropolitan Detention Center
  • Confer with the county and Albuquerque Public Schools about the feasibility of addressing students’ medical and behavioral health needs in school-based clinics
  • Offer financial assistance for qualifying low-income patients; fees, co-pays or down payments will be reasonably related to income
  • Allocate at least 15 percent of mill levy proceeds to the operation and maintenance of the Mental Health Center
  • Continue funding for navigational services and programs for qualified residents
  • Monitor and report on a variety of performance measures associated with accountability, a quality primary care system, indigent care, behavioral health, and Native American services.

I believe we now have an agreement that allows UNMH to adequately serve as a safety net for the uninsured and underinsured residents of Bernalillo County. This agreement is comprehensive in nature and includes many of the community’s recommendations outlined in the 2014 Heath Care Task Force Report, which was organized by the county,” says Commissioner Debbie O’Malley, who sponsored the legislation to begin negotiations with the university on a new agreement more than three years ago.

Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins has also been intimately involved in shaping the contents of the agreement. “The process has been inclusive, transparent and accountable, and I want to thank our negotiating partners, Indian Health Service, the All Pueblo Council of Governors, and UNMH for being flexible and open to including important elements in this agreement that will make a significant contribution toward improving the quality of life for our community’s most vulnerable residents.”

Before the memorandum of understanding can become effective, it must also be approved by the Health Sciences Center Committee at  UNMH and the University of New Mexico Board of Regents. The agreement is expected to go before both entities in March.

UNMH is also working on two related program agreements with providers that link community members with essential social services to help them navigate and overcome barriers to success, as well as case management services at the county’s Resource and Re-entry Center for MDC inmates transitioning back into the community, scheduled to open this Spring. The County Commission will need to approve those additional agreements, which could happen during the County Commission’s Feb. 27 meeting.

Background: A long-standing federal agreement between the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bernalillo County makes the county responsible for operating the hospital known as UNMH.

A 1952 agreement provides for the operation of a licensed hospital by the county on land that was transferred to the county by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Since 1978, Bernalillo County has relied upon UNMH to operate the hospital through a mutual agreement that is renegotiated every eight years.

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