Legislation has hospital board guessing

By Kevin Wilson

Proposed bills in the state Legislature could leave the Roosevelt General Hospital board with a few answers to burning questions, or create more questions themselves.
Items that the state legislators are working on were part of the discussion at Thursday’s board meeting, including a pair of bills which may or may not have an impact on one of Gov. Bill Richardson’s executive orders from 2003.
James D’Agostino, RGH administrator, said both the state House and Senate have defense of marriage bills.
The bills are intended to define marriage in New Mexico as a union between a man and a woman. The House version of the bill (House Bill 445) has been tabled, while Senate Bill 597 has not been heard yet.
At question is Executive Order 2003-10. Established April 9, 2003, the order ensures that domestic partners of state employees are afforded the same benefits as spouses. An eligible relationship would be between partners who “are in a mutually exclusive, committed relationship, who share a primary residence for 12 or more consecutive months, who are jointly responsible for the common welfare of each other and who share financial obligations.
While the proposed bills and the executive order do not clash in their overall intents, D’Agostino was concerned that language in the bills may contradict items in the executive order.
To be eligible for benefits, each state employee and domestic partner must execute an affidavit of domestic partnership. About four or five employees have signed such affidavits, RGH Chief Finance Officer Kevin Ramage said. None have enrolled for health insurance for partners, Ramage said, but have enrolled for the less expensive option of life insurance.
D’Agostine said the board will need to be aware of what happens with the proposed bills, and figure out where to go from there.
In other business at the meeting:
• D’Agostino said that as of Feb. 4, the medical office building expansion is 94 percent complete.
“He’s going to try to shoot for a March 1 date (for completion),” D’Agostino said of Dan Sievers of Cooper Medical Buildings, which has been working on the building. “I’m not sure if he’s going to do it, but we’re pushing it pretty hard.”
The building will include additional room for 11 physicians, medical staff and the patients.
The medical office building will expand from 8,000 square feet to more than double the size — 16,900 square feet. According to D’Agostino, there will be 31 exam rooms and five procedure rooms in addition to the 11 offices — including an X-ray machine for non-emergency room visits.
• D’Agostino told the board that he made an addition to an employee benefit plan, mainly regarding a toll-free line for employees to call with personal issues (i.e. divorce, alcoholism, death of a loved one).
“When you have employees working in stressful situations,” D’Agostino said. “they do have problems.”
D’Agostino said the additions would come at a cost of $1.81 each for 111 employees.