By Amy Byres
Mill-levy money diverted to help UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center in COVID-19 efforts is being reverted to behavioral health services and physical-trauma care.
Thursday night, the Sandoval County Commission voted unanimously to send the money back to its original purposes by Sept. 1, and SRMC President and CEO Jamie Silva-Steele said the change had already been made.
In November 2018, voters approved a mill-levy that — according to the county health facilities agreement — is a property tax under the Hospital Funding Act, providing money for medical, surgical, behavioral health, and emergency services.
The funds diverted would include money earmarked for behavioral health — except for services at the detention center — and trauma care said Sandoval County Attorney Robin Hammer at a May commission meeting.
Since monies from the levy have been diverted, SRMC has seen its most critical days between April and mid-May with a spike of 14 COVID-19 patients and six ventilators being used at one time, Silva-Steele said.
“When we saw spikes in June and July that tended to be a younger population that was not as ill requiring ICU beds versus the first part of the pandemic was mostly elderly and very ill, and definitely those that experienced death during that period of time,” she said.
SRMC has had 59 recoveries and treated 73 inpatients to date with 14 deaths due to COVID-19, Silva-Steele said.
Since the start of the pandemic, SRMC has not furloughed, laid off or performed any pay cuts to its employees, she said.
At the county commission meeting Thursday night, Silva-Steele was glad to report that the hospital’s operating revenue is on an upward trend, and money from the levy was already being diverted back to its original uses.
Operating revenues are SRMC’s total revenues, Silva-Steele said.
Since March 6, SRMC has canceled or postponed over 4,000 visits and procedures that require additional personal protective equipment.
These services are being rescheduled and contributing to SRMC June operating revenues, Silva-Steele said.
From February to April, SRMC had a sharp decline in operating revenue. In February, operating revenues were about $7.5 million and April had about $4.3 million. From April to June, operating revenues for the hospital have been on the rise, with June ending with about $6.1 million, according to Silva-Steele’s PowerPoint presentation on Thursday.
“One important thing I would like to articulate is how much we appreciate the county commissioners and the administration working with SRMC during these very challenging months of COVID… So my thanks goes out to the county, and I do want to communicate to voters and to the public that we remain 100 percent committed to continuing to grow behavioral-health and trauma,” she said.
Silva-Steele shared an update of what money from the mill levy is doing.
Behavioral health care
SRMC has provided Sandoval County Detention Center with behavioral health services through CorrHealth since the levy was approved in 2018, and that has not changed throughout the pandemic.
Silva-Steele is working with the jail’s administrator, Gilbert Armendariz, to meet with Corr-Health to provide further behavioral health services there. More information about this will be available after the meeting among Silva-Steele, Armendariz and CorrHealth.
The UNM Medical Group Clinic at the Health Sciences Center Rio Rancho campus uses $20,000-$60,000 in mill-levy funds for Rio Rancho Public Schools’ behavioral-health programs. These include Mental Health First Aid training for employees, students and parents, and, planned for the future, Koala Club, a student mental health club.
Pre-COVID in January-March, the clinic saw about 129 patients per month. From April-June, the clinic saw an average of 207 patients per month virtually or via telephone.
“The success rate of (virtual or phone visits) is very high. And this is something that we see as we move forward — not just with this clinic but with several others — where we will continue to utilize virtual health as a means for patients to access care,” Silva-Steele said.
SRMC is integrating behavioral health into its:
• Primary care clinic,
• Emergency department, and
• Inpatients admitted with behavioral health conditions.
Silva-Steele said SRMC is working on developing a crisis intervention program.
In behavioral-health outpatient care, SRMC has provided for 446 patients with a total of 1,226 visits during the 2019 fiscal year.
Some of the top primary diagnoses of the patients were:
• Major depressive disorder, single episode;
• Post-traumatic stress disorder;
• Bipolar disorder;
• Adjustment disorder with mixed anxiety; and
• Generalized anxiety disorder.
For SRMC behavioral health inpatient care, the hospital had admitted 1,594 patients and has discharged 1,903 during the 2019 fiscal year.
The top primary diagnoses were:
• Suicidal intentions and intentional self-inflicted injury,
• Substance-related disorder,
• Delirium dementia and amnestic — an impairment to recall and learn information — and other cognitive disorders,
• Mood disorders, and
• Schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.
Levy money is also used for physical-trauma patients. SRMC is leading community outreach efforts with a Stop the Bleed campaign, Silva-Steele said.
The Stop the Bleed campaign partners with local first responders in teaching the community how to provide life-saving measures to someone who is injured and bleeding.
Courses for Stop the Bleed will be offered at Health Sciences Rio Rancho once a month for community members free of charge and include a bicycle helmet fitting, Silva-Steele said.
In addition, SRMC will have a series of mock trauma drills and education sessions for its staff to qualify for the state trauma survey.