On Election Day, voters within the El Paso city limits approved the issuance of $272 million in bonds to improve streets, parks and implement climate controls. On the same day, voters in the Canutillo school district rejected a $264 million bond initiative to improve its schools.
Then last week, El Paso County’s proposal to issue $100 million in certificates of obligation, or COs, to improve streets, Ascarate Park and the jails was paused after several speakers suggested that the voters should be allowed to vote on the county’s proposal. COs don’t require voter approval and are repaid primarily with property taxes.
Amid all these developments is the El Paso County Hospital District and its pending proposal to issue $346 million in debt to expand University Medical Center of El Paso and the El Paso Children’s Hospital. The district’s request to issue certificates of obligation to expand UMC was halted on Oct. 3 by a petition signed by 35,000 citizens requesting that the proposal be left up to the voters.
The next election, which may include bond proposals by other taxing entities, is set for May.
To update voters on UMC’s plan, El Paso Matters emailed five questions to UMC CEO Jacob Cintron in early November. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
El Paso Matters: A petition stopped the El Paso Commissioners Court from voting on UMC’s proposal to issue debt for its expansion. Has a decision been made on whether to take this to the voters in 2023?
Cintron: The El Paso County Hospital District respects the process. All along our goal was to share with the community our needs and the various methods of finance. At this time we are reviewing our options and next steps with our Board of Managers and County Commissioners.
El Paso Matters: UMC had various town hall meetings to explain its plan. Which of the proposed projects had the most support? Which had the least?
Cintron: The Hospital District provided 76 presentations on the proposed plan to address capacity constraints. Community members consistently voiced support. We were also asked thoughtful questions. These questions helped us to clarify why we were asking for these projects. There was not a clear pattern of preference for some projects over others.
El Paso Matters: County Commissioner David Stout stated during a public meeting that some of the private hospitals were working to stop UMC’s plan. Why would any health care provider be against UMC’s proposed expansion?
Cintron: UMC’s mission is to provide access to world-class health care for all El Pasoans. UMC is the only hospital in our region fully committed to all patients regardless of their ability to pay. Our community/region deserves the same level of care anyone would receive within other cities throughout the nation. We will continue working hard to fulfill our mandate to provide much needed access and expansion of care.
El Paso Matters: After spending years running a private hospital, you took over UMC in 2016. Is it easier or tougher to operate and expand a public hospital? Why?
Cintron: I have spent more time working at UMC than at any other health care organization. We give our patients a level of care not found elsewhere in this region. Patients who have resources choose UMC over other options. Leading a hospital is always a challenge. At UMC, I am fulfilled knowing that our mission is to ensure that all have access to receive world-class health care.
El Paso Matters: Public health wise, what will be the biggest challenge for the El Paso-Juárez area in 2023?
Cintron: We will see continued increases in cases of influenza, RSV and other illnesses. While many may think that the pandemic is behind us, we cannot rest. Just like last year, new variants of COVID can still challenge our community.