By Todd G. Dickson
Las Cruces Bulletin
In return for adding jobs to the community, the Las Cruces City Council approved turning over its old office building – the original Memorial General Hospital – to La Clinica de Familia at its meeting Tuesday, Feb. 4.
Using an economic development exemption in state law, the city was able to give La Clinica the building, constructed in 1949 and vacant since 2010, whenmunicipal operations were centralized in its new City Hall.
City officials had previously considered converting the building into affordable housing or possibly razing the property, but asbestos material was always a concern.
Suzan Martinez de Gonzales, chief executive officer La Clinica de Familia, said the building’s use for health care will make it eligible for grant money to pay for asbestos abatement, which will be the first phase of work to convert the building.
La Clinica currently has seven community clinics, three inschool clinics and four dental clinics around the county, but the need for medical and dental services for low-income residents has always exceeded capacity, said Daniel Armistead, chief clinical officer.
“Every time we occupied a larger facility, we wished it was bigger,” he said.
Having a large, centrally located clinic will increase access for primary care, Armistead said.
“This is monumental for us,” Martinez de Gonzales told councillors. “Thank you making our dream of having a central health clinic come true.”
After the asbestos abatement, La Clinica will remodel the building to provide a range of medical services from traditional medical care and screenings to dental services, counseling and health education. Martinez de Gonzales said La Clinica expects it to be the home of 142 medical professionals by its third year of occupying the building. Also, by that third year, the new clinic is expected to serve 13,000 patients, she said.
Toby Casci, who heads La Clinica dental services, said a dental clinic would occupy the southern wing with eight chairs for general dentistry. The benefit to the community, Casci said, is the clinic offering 24-hour emergency dental care to lessenthe number of people going to hospital emergency rooms to be relieved of dental pain.
Elizabeth Vega, interim city economic development administrator, said the agreement with La Clinica requires that it add at least 55 jobs, with 35 percent of those jobs being “high-medium salaried professionals.” The clinic operations will be worth an estimated $1 million in gross receipts tax through the year 2020, she said.
Martinez de Gonzales said La Clinica will partner with New Mexico State University’s health and human services profession programs to make the clinic a teaching community health center.
Armistead said the large, central clinic helps the community meet the growing demand for medical services resulting from the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.
Along with returning the building to its original use, its location across Alameda Boulevard from the city’s new intermodal center makes it very accessible to the people who will need to use it, said Councillor Greg Smith.
Councillor Ceil Levatino said she likes how La Clinica’s plans include preventative efforts.
“I know in the pediatric world that every dollar spent on prenatal care saves $4 in post-natal care,” she said.
The agreement, which allows the city to reclaim ownership if the nonprofit La Clinica fails to meet goals under a negotiated timeline, was approved unanimously. Martinez de Gonzales said La Clinica needed to have ownership of the building before it could apply for different financing options for the renovations.
In other business: With the Predator Masters annual hunt and conventionat the New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum set for Thursday, Feb. 6, through Saturday, Feb. 8, opponents to the informal coyote hunts held during the gathering were frustrated the council didn’t have a resolution stating its opposition on the agenda. Mayor Ken Miyagishima said he wasn’t at the meeting in which the request was made and was unaware of the proposal when he set Tuesday’s meeting agenda.
With the city charter and state open meeting laws requiring public notice of proposed resolutions, it was too late for the council to officially object to this year’s hunt. Kevin Bixby, director of the Southwest Environmental Center, said it would help to put pressure on agencies allowing the hunt if the council would express its opposition in a future resolution.