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UPDATE: El Paso County Commissioners approve $152 million bond issuance

By Matthew Smith, Good Morning El Paso Weekend Anchor / Reporter
Published On: Apr 09 2013 06:41:28 PM CDT
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 07:03:45 PM CST

ABC-7s Matthew Smith reports.

EL PASO, Texas -

UPDATE April 8, 2013 6:38 p.m.

El Paso County Commissioners approved $152 million worth of bonds on Monday by a vote of 3-to-1.

The bonds will help University Medical Center build new clinics, and renovate their current buildings.

Commissioner Dan Haggerty didn't vote. He left the meeting after more than seven hours of discussion. Before leaving he had said he was "beat." Haggerty recently began a new chemotherapy regiment.

Commissioner Carlos Leon represented the "swing" vote that allowed UMC to obtain the money.

Leon told ABC-7 that he was prepared to vote 'no.' He also requested to postpone the vote, instead when pressed for a vote he voted to approve the bond sale.

UMC originally requested $162 million in a bond issuance, that number was amended on Monday to offset a change in land cost.

ORIGINAL STORY

It's a packed house in El Paso County Commissioners Court.

University of Medical Center is making a pitch for commissioners to approve $162 million in bonds that would allow four clinics to be built throughout El Paso.

Three new 50,000-square foot clinics have been proposed along with a fourth clinic that is smaller.

The clinics are meant to deter patients from using emergency rooms as their sole source of medical care. Since UMC has presented plans of these clinics, they've said new prioritized clinics would build health homes for patients.

Changes in Medicaid will potentially alter the way payments are reimbursed to hospitals like UMC. Repeat visits will not be paid for as they were in the past, meaning a new health model for UMC needs to be adopted.

The proposal would raise taxes for El Paso county residents. A home valued at $100,000 would see an increase of roughly $20 per year.

UMC CEO Jim Valenti gave a presentation during Monday's meeting outlining the reasoning behind the request. According to Valenti, the clinics are part of the overall plan that has been created over the past several years.

"Without these clinics this plan is completely gutted," said Valenti.

Valenti said the success of a similar clinic in Northeast El Paso shows the clinics will work. He outlined patient visits during his presentation, stating more than 29,000 visits occurred in 2012 up from around 16,000 when they opened their doors in 2009.

Leading up to Monday's meeting, doctors from the private sector have voiced opposition to the new UMC plan.

Some have voiced concern that UMC could push them out of business, and drive out doctors from the region.

Many doctors have signed up to speak in public comment today; however, they haven't had a chance to do so yet as Valenti is giving his presentation ahead of the public comment section of the meeting.

One person who was allowed to speak early was Cindy Ramos. Ramos is the head of the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. She was allowed to speak early due to a prior engagement.

Ramos told the court that she doesn't believe the timing is right. She was among the first to speak during public comment explaining that 92% of her group's members said they didn't support the bonds.

"There is a limit of no return for them," said Ramos referring to businesses being overburdened by the taxation that would result from the bond issuance.

Valenti continues to give his presentation now. ABC-7s Matthew Smith is inside the courthouse. Follow him on Twitter for more information as it develops at @MattSmithABC7.
 

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