UMC's leader concerned how new El Paso teaching hospital could affect UMC

EL PASO, Texas - University Medical Center's leader has expressed concern about University Medical Center losing staff and paying patients to the new teaching hospital in West El Paso.

In a newsletter last week, UMC President and CEO, Jim Valenti wrote the new hospital is a "great development" that does not signal a weakening of UMC's 40-year partnership with the Medical School. "New infrastructure also means new, good-paying jobs," wrote Valenti about the new hospital, but he also added he had concerns about what the new institution meant for UMC.

Specifically, Valenti wrote he worries that Texas Tech will transfer doctors from UMC to the new hospital. "In all honesty, Texas Tech currently has trouble meeting UMC's growing needs for physicians and services," the CEO wrote. The medical school has committed to recruiting up to 35 new faculty physicians to staff the westside hospital and Valenti wrote he's concerned Texas Tech will meet that commitment by transferring physicians currently staffing UMC - for the first year of the new hospital, or permanently.

County Judge Veronica Escobar expressed the same worry.

"I am concerned that Tech's resources may be stretched so thin, that UMC might end up on the negative end of it. I know there are vacancies right now at Tech that haven't been filled so what will that mean a year from now, or two years from now as UMC continues to need staffing for its hospital," she said in an interview Monday.

UMC Spokeswoman Margaret Althoff-Olivas said Texas Tech has been unable in the past to staff programs at UMC, such as a "hospitalist" program which revolves around doctors who work only at UMC and not clinics, in part to speed up the hospital admitting process.

Texas Tech Senior Communications Director, Dr. Laura Gallegos, said Dr. Manuel De La Rosa, the Medical School's Dean was not available for an interview Monday because he was leaving town and emailed a statement.

In the statement, Dr. De La Rosa, in part wrote: "Texas Tech Health Sciences Center at El Paso remains committed to serving the underserved wherever they receive services at not for profit or for profit hospitals. We have contractual obligations to UMC and it is fully our intention to meet those obligations. Our commitment to building a solid healthcare infrastructure with all of our partners on the Medical Center of the Americas campus remains strong and intact."

When asked how many vacancies Texas Tech is currently facing, Gallegos, in a text message, wrote that it's about 100 at any given time. "(That's) not unusual for a large organization like ours with people coming and going," wrote Gallegos.

The new private teaching hospital, slated to open in about two and a half years will be partnership between TENET, which owns Sierra Providence Health Network and Texas Tech.

In the newsletter, Valenti also wrote he worries Texas may change its admitting patterns in a way that the for-profit hospital will receive paying patients, while UMC will get only the indigent. 

"That equilibrium if it's unsettled too much, that revenue needs to be made up somewhere and because it's a hospital district - my concern is that it'll be made up on the tax rate side, that's my concern," said Escobar.

In other words, if UMC loses patients with health insurance, it's revenues decrease and may have to be made up through taxes, according to Escobar.

De La Rosa's statement did not directly address the patient issue Valenti raised in the newsletter. De La Rosa did write the programs at the new hospital will be increases in Texas Tech's services.

"Our primary motivation remains growing our medical school to 100 students per class and providing the opportunity to complete their education in El Paso, hence, the needed expansion of our services," De La Rosa said, in the statement.

The concerns come as reports have shown a somewhat tense relationship between the Medical School and UMC.

"We are really at a critical juncture with regard to healthcare and that campus all hands have to be on deck to make sure we get passed what is a stormy period. We all want the same thing we just have to fix these relationships in order to get there and it's totally possible," said Escobar.

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