Reposted with permission from the Hobbs News Sun
 
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Lea County is getting a new hospital.

Covenant Health/Hobbs Hospital is coming to Hobbs soon, with expectations to reduce patient trips to Lubbock for many medical services.

Expected to open for patients in about two years, Conenant officials are still working on a location in Hobbs.

Lubbock-based Covenant Health System CEO Richard Parks and Lovington-based Nor-Lea Hospital CEO David Shaw announced plans for the $52 million, 105,000-square foot, three-story, 32-bed facility. The new hospital is expected to employ 200-250 people. A Covenant press release states the health provider is making, “a $75 million investment” in Hobbs.

“Nor-Lea has been working on trying to improve the quality of health care and expand services in all of Lea County, not just in Lovington,” Shaw told the News-Sun.

Shaw said Nor-Lea has limitations of a critical access hospital and the hospital district being outside of Hobbs.

“Some of the shortfalls fall in the area of hospitalization, long term stays, ICU (intensive care unit) care and things like that,” Shaw said. “Obviously, there are some issues with OB (obstetrics) services being provided in the local community. So, working with the (Economic Development Corporation of Lea County) and working with Richard Parks, we have been exploring for several years the possibility of opening a new hospital here in Hobbs.”

Parks said, “We’re really excited. On a project of this magnitude, it just takes years to figure out; (a) if you need to do it and (b) what are you going to do when the dog catches the tire. David’s been very helpful. Obviously, he knows this area; he’s been here 20 years.”

The new hospital will be managed under the Covenant umbrella, which includes facilities in Plainview and Levelland, Texas; but will maintain a working relationship with Nor-Lea, the CEOs explained.

“We’ve been talking with the local economic development council and, certainly, Mayor (Sam) Cobb.

He’s been very supportive and instrumental in helping us understand the market and the needs,” Parks said. “We’ve done two feasibility studies in this market. We’re not coming here as a foe or somebody to upset things. We just want to give people in the community and beyond Hobbs some options with their health care.”

Data examined by Covenant officials indicated about half of the patients in the Hobbs area travel to get health care elsewhere, Parks said.

“Most of those come to Lubbock, to Covenant, anyway. We started looking at what kind of diseases and health issues people were having that were coming to Covenant Medical Center and our children’s hospital and women’s services,” he added. “We decided we’d look at seeing if we can put those services here and have a medical footprint.”

Parks said a large number of beds at Covenant Health in Lubbock, about 15 out of every 100 patients admitted, are occupied by eastern New Mexico residents.

“About 15% of our total admissions in Lubbock come from the Hobbs and Carlsbad area,” Parks said. “One of the reasons we’re doing this is we realize that a lot of residents are having to drive two or three hours for health care. We thought rather than make you come to us, we’ll come to your community. … It’s kind of sad to make people drive that far.”

Parks noted the new hospital in Hobbs is a win-win for both the patients and the hospital complex.

“We feel like it’s the right thing to do for the community, but it’s also the right thing to do for Covenant,” he said. “If you look at all of our market, which is 22,000 square miles — about the size of the state of South Carolina — where we get patients from, this city (Hobbs) is the best opportunity for growth of any place. I’m including Midland/Odessa. This is the place to be, we felt like.”

Anticipating massive investments from the oil and gas industry in coming years, as well as a vocational technical school coming soon in Hobbs, along with medical training at the New Mexico Junior College, Parks suggested Covenant is making the right choice building a hospital here first.

“We anticipate this will be a good way to get a medical footprint here and maybe expand into other markets in New Mexico,” Parks said. “Actually, eastern New Mexico is a large part of our health system. That 15% is only the in-patient. I don’t really know what percent are out-patient.”

Shaw explained a good reason for another hospital in the area is to close the gaps that keep people traveling to Lubbock.

“There are a lot of gaps in services throughout Lea County. What you’re going to see is a lot of complementary services between the two facilities,” Shaw said. “We did a study recently, I think it was last year, and found that 700 people were transferred to Covenant in Lubbock for ICU services that might have been able to stay here if we had an ICU. We don’t have an ICU in Lovington.

“For a number of other services, they could have stayed here closer to home which would be much more convenient and better for our patients here in Lea County,” Shaw continued. “We see it as a complement to the good work that Nor-Lea’s doing. Covenant has the same values that Nor-Lea does, so we look forward to collaborating with them.”

Parks said the new hospital will have a full emergency department and will specialize in women’s services, including obstetrics.

He added a list of other services to be available.

“A lot of your politicians and community leaders, the EDC and David have told us there’s a big need for behavioral health services and substance abuse,” Parks said. “So, we’re going to try to focus on those two areas, but we’re also going to have cardiology, orthopedics and general medicine.”

In making the decision to expand the Covenant brand into Hobbs, Parks lauded the cooperation and help provided by city and county officials, the EDCLC and the JF Maddox Foundation.

Cobb pointed out the announcement is the result of three years of collaboration of all those entities.

“On behalf of the Hobbs City Commission and the Mayor’s office, we are excited to see this announcement and know that this facility and the medical teams from both Nor-Lea and Covenant that will be a part of its operation will have an enduring and positive impact on our community’s quality of life and our ability to create new business opportunities and jobs for our residents,” Cobb said.

“The Economic Development Corporation of Lea County is thrilled to welcome Covenant to Hobbs,” said EDCLC CEO Missi Currier. “Adding a third hospital to the county not only allows for healthcare options, but increases our already strong pool of quality jobs. Improved quality of life and good business go hand-in-hand in Lea County.”

JF Maddox Foundation CEO Bob Reid added, “We’re happy to welcome Covenant to Hobbs. This is one of the fastest growing communities in the nation. Accordingly, more local providers will be needed in assuring access to essential medical services.”

Lea County Manager Mike Gallagher said the development of another hospital in Hobbs helps relieve issues discovered in a medical needs study completed in 2013 when a shortage of primary care physicians and specialty care were identified.

“The work the county has done, along with other partners such as the City of Hobbs, Nor-Lea, the City of Lovington, the New Mexico Department of Health and Covenant, all has been with the idea of bringing in more practitioners to make health care more accessible for our residents of Lea County,” Gallagher said. “One of the solutions or ideas the committee had (in 2013) was to have another large scale medical institution, like another hospital, in Lea County.”

The mayor pointed out the local officials wanted to ensure that certain medical services were enhanced, whether they had not been available or were only available on a limited and sporadic basis.

“In addition, it was made very clear to the Covenant Team by the Lea County entities that from the outset and as part of the ongoing strategy to enhance the quality of life in our area through expanded medical services that the collaboration between Covenant and Nor-Lea would continue,” Cobb said. “I am very confident that Covenant has adopted that strategy in their business plan and I trust in their commitment to do so.”

Covenant has been involved in Hobbs health care for years including supporting Nor-Lea Hospital District’s opening of the Hobbs Medical Clinic in December 2015 and the Covenant Children’s Pediatric Clinic in October 2016, both on Dal Paso Street.

Both Shaw and Parks emphasized, even though there is collaboration between Nor-Lea and Covenant, the new hospital will be managed by the Covenant Health Care System. Parks said he anticipates making use of Shaw’s expertise in recruiting doctors to the area.

With the new hospital, employing 200-250 people including doctors, nurses and support staff, and the capacity to expand to 50 beds, Parks said, “I think we’ll probably have to expand pretty quickly.”

“It’s been three years of work laying the foundation for this,” Shaw said. “We took the time to put it together because we wanted to do it right.”

Parks expressed optimism about the timing of the construction phase.

“I would think, probably, in a year-and-a-half to two years, we will be ready to open,” he said.

Lea Regional Medical Center, providing hospital services in Hobbs since 1974, issued a statement at the request of the News-Sun.

“Our commitment to our community remains resolute, even as new providers enter the market,” Lea Regional CEO Dan Springer said in the statement. “Delivering medical care requires strong teamwork, and we are proud of our physicians, employees and volunteers who work together to serve our patients’ needs.”

He pointed out Lea Regional continually changes to fit the healthcare needs of patients and to bring more services close to home, including accreditation as a chest pain center and heart failure, and certification as a stroke center, while offering an interventional cardiology program as well as orthopedic surgeries.

Curtis C. Wynne may be contacted at reporter3@hobbsnews. com.