Serving the High Plains

Area lawmakers want to help hospitals

Measures to boost hospitals are among the top priorities for two area lawmakers when the New Mexico Legislature convenes for its 30-day session this week.

On a related note, they also want funding for Quay County so it can build a new Trigg Memorial Hospital in Tucumcari.

State Sen. Pat Woods (R-Broadview), whose 7th District encompasses Quay, Union and Curry counties, and state Rep. Jack Chatfield (R-Mosquero), whose 67th District includes territory in Quay, San Miguel, Curry, Union, Harding and Colfax counties, spoke on the phone last week about what they wanted to enact into law when the legislative session begins at noon this Tuesday.

Woods said he wanted to obtain more funding for small, rural hospitals “to keep their doors open.”

He cited such hospitals in Clayton, Roosevelt County and Tucumcari as examples.

Small hospitals have struggled in the post-pandemic era, especially with a shortage of healthcare workers.

Chatfield said he would support a bill that would reduce insurance requirements of all hospitals from $5 million to $1 million. He said the cost of such insurance has increased by 200% recently.

Regarding Trigg Memorial Hospital, Woods noted the state is projected to have $3.5 billion in new money, mostly from oil and gas production.

He said with that atmosphere, “maybe we’ll get that done this go-round” to land funds for a new Tucumcari hospital.

Chatfield said if a $10 million capital outlay request to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to help build a new Trigg Memorial Hospital doesn’t materialize, he would introduce a bill to land such funding.

The infrastructure at Trigg Memorial Hospital, built almost 60 years ago, is beginning to fail. A new hospital built on land just north of the current hospital would cost about $35 million.

Attempts to obtain funding for that project during the 2023 legislative session failed. Quay County government now is seeking a mix of federal and state funding for it.

Woods said he also wants a bill that would restrict the state from buying more land for conservation purposes, citing New Mexico Game & Fish’s purchase in 2021 of 7,500 acres of the Pipkin Ranch southeast of Fort Sumner. The agency stated the acquisition would help the lesser prairie chicken, pronghorn and other grassland animals.

The state in 2022 also helped acquire about 54,000 acres near Mount Taylor west of Albuquerque, also to preserve habitat.

Woods questioned the effectiveness of those purchases.

“They’re pretty good-sized pieces land, but it’s not big enough sized piece of land that’s going to affect a species by any means,” he said.

Woods said the state also is looking at combining federal funding sources, such as Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps, into one agency that would control billions of dollars.

“That scares the heck out of me,” he said. “With secretaries (of agencies) changing, rotating out … anytime you lose that top person, it takes a while for the learning curve for the next one.

“I’m not real confident that we have somebody that can do the managing. It’s a very intensive operation. To put that much more intensive operation under one head has got me concerned.”

Chatfield said another one of his high priorities for funding is infrastructure, especially roads.

Both lawmakers said the state’s coffers are flush with money from oil and gas production but questioned how long that would last.

“We would like to put (new money) to work so that when the price of oil goes down or when drilling gets to be less, we’re not just left with nothing again like we have been many, many times,” Chatfield said. “We’re trying to set it up into different funds and things that will carry us forward into our future.”

Woods attributed the state’s oil boom to horizontal drilling, but he’s hearing the good times won’t last.

“They’re predicting the year afterwards, it’s going to start slowing up, that oil and gas production will finally kind of top out,” he said.