Serving the High Plains

County takes steps toward new hospital

The Quay County commission on Monday took several significant steps to building a new hospital to replace aging Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari, including unanimously approving a nearly $1 million design service fee with an Arizona architectural firm.

The $981,718.94 design service fee with Stantec Architecture in Phoenix, which has designed 19 other rural hospitals, covers architectural, structural, mechanical, plumbing, electrical, landscaping, civil engineering and heliport designs. It included an estimated $58,000 discount because of Quay County’s generally lower costs.

Mike Williams, a healthcare planner at Stantec, told the commission by videoconference Monday his firm plans to reduce the new hospital complex’s size from 40,800 to 36,700 square feet to cut costs and construction time.

Stantec initially estimated a total cost of $20.8 million, but Williams acknowledged inflationary pressures in the construction industry could make that sum go higher.

Williams earlier this year provided three options in a feasibility study for the nearly 60-year-old Trigg Memorial Hospital, including building a new facility on a donated tract of land just south of there, renovating in place, or a hybrid of renovation and new construction.

Williams said Monday he and county officials said new construction was the least-expensive option with the shortest construction time.

Commissioner Jerri Rush asked whether Stantec could borrow elements from the other 19 hospitals it designed to save costs. Williams said contract language state those designs are owned by the governmental entities, and it would require a “lengthy” process to use them.

Also, Williams said each construction site is unique, with different soil conditions and climates that require custom designs. Finally, he said local, state and federal codes for hospitals change quickly, and design firms have to adapt to those.

Commission Chairman Franklin McCasland asked when the design would be finished. Williams replied he hoped to complete it by Thanksgiving and have a detailed construction cost estimate by December. McCasland said that timeframe would be “helpful” in having enough information to request a state appropriation by the New Mexico Legislature’s January session.

The commission also approved a $1,000-a-month agreement with former longtime county manager Richard Primrose to serve as the county’s liaison with hospital contractors.

County manager Daniel Zamora noted Primrose assisted him with the transition, and “he had 14 years of experience (as county manager) I couldn’t buy.” Zamora said with a project of the scale of a new hospital, Primrose’s monthly fee for his services is about one-third of what it ordinarily would cost.

Rush agreed: “I think this is going to be money well-spent.”

Before the vote on the agreement, Primrose said it was a good time to request federal and state money to help build the new hospital. He said he has approached federal legislators about funding possibilities, and an aide for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pledged to help.

Primrose said if the conceptual design for the hospital was done before early next year and “shovel ready,” it would give local officials “a leg up” to request taxpayer money for the project. He said any effort to get construction started earlier in 2023 also would save money.

Zamora added the county is looking at its bonding capacity as a funding option but would prefer the state contributing to the cost.

Primrose pointed out 25% of Trigg Memorial Hospital’s patients are out-of-town travelers. Considering 20,000 vehicle go through Quay County daily, he said the state assuming much of the hospital’s cost arguably could be justified.

Rush admitted the nearly $1 million price for Stantec’s design service fee gave her “heartburn” and that the county should be “responsible for the money we get.”

Primrose acknowledged the cost is “frustrating” but pointed out the county historically has been frugal, with its only debt for firetrucks purchased for rural districts.

“We’ve been very conscientious with the citizens’ funding,” he said.

On a related note, the commission approved a resolution that creates a Hospital Improvements Fund, with about $1 million being moved from the Hospital Fund into it.

Trigg Memorial Hospital, built in 1965, is well-maintained overall, Williams said during a previous meeting, but several aspects of its infrastructure are near the end of their lives. Those include the HVAC system, heating and cooling pipes, plumbing, medical gas system and parking lot. He said its electrical system is in good condition but doesn’t meet modern code.

In other business:

• The commission approved the canvass of votes for the June 7 primary election. County Clerk Ellen White said the election contained no provincial ballots or outstanding absentee ballots. She also said same-day voter registration went more smoothly than expected.

White explained the county’s voting machines are not connected to the internet, contrary to the belief of some residents. She said only county election officials have access to election data and equipment before they’re submitted to the New Mexico Secretary of State.

Rush said she received a request from a constituent to delay a vote on the canvass but saw no reason to do so, saying the clerk’s office administered the election in a “fair and balanced” way.

• C. Renee Hayoz, administrator of the Quay County Family Health Center, said Presbyterian Medical Services during the third quarter would implement a call-center system from Rio Rancho, with the option of one local employee working at home within the system.

Hayoz said the clinic also implemented a goal of 20-minute visits by patients, which she acknowledged might create a few difficulties for those coming from remote ranches.

• During public comments, McCasland instructed Zamora to place Joe Szaloy’s concerns about speeding motorists on Tucumcari’s East Maple Avenue on the commission’s June 27 meeting agenda. Szaloy has attended the last few meetings and offered to pay for speed bumps on that road.