Rio Arriba County officials are in negotiations to purchase the building that formerly housed the Española Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
The plan is to then find a third-party contractor to rent the building and have them provide behavioral health services to County residents.
County Economic Development Director Christopher Madrid said while they originally wanted to use the building for its intended use as a nursing and rehabilitation center, building owner Omega Healthcare Investors includes a restrictive covenant in its purchase agreement.
“In talking to Omega, their representative, they’ve made it absolutely clear that it cannot be a skilled nursing facility,” he said. “They’re going to impose that restrictive covenant unfortunately. So, with that background, we still have an empty building, we’ve lost 75 jobs.”
Omega is a real estate investment trust that owns skilled nursing facilities and senior housing facilities, its website states. The majority of the company’s investments are rental properties and they are located in multiple states, such as California, Florida, Texas and Indiana, as well as in the United Kingdom.
The restrictive covenant caused the County government to look for other possible providers, Madrid said.
“Unfortunately, a growing industry in our state and in our nation is behavioral health,” he said. “There’s more demand than there are beds and that facility may provide an asset that could be put to work in that industry.”
He said he is negotiating with several companies to rent the building from the County after it is purchased.
He would not share the names of the companies he is in contact with for fear of it impacting the negotiation process.
Soon after Española Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation representatives announced Nov. 1, 2018 that the facility would close at the end of the year, local officials began contacting then governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham to ask for help.
“She had known about the nursing home closure and they were working with us before she took office, but there was really nothing she could do because she wasn’t in office yet,” District 41 Rep. Susan Herrera, D-Embudo, said.
While Lujan Grisham was difficult to reach once the Legislative session began, Herrera said she “kept bugging” her Legislative Director Victor Reyes to get some money for the facility.
Herrera held back $1 million of her own Capital Outlay allowance in case Grisham did not make the appropriation.
“(It was) kind of the perfect storm,” Herrera said. “But she came through.”
The money to purchase the building came in the form of a one-time appropriation made during the Legislative session.
The County received $1 million as part of Senate Bill 280, which provides more than $850 million to fund infrastructure projects throughout the state.
Although the County will be able to purchase the facility, there is still the void of not having a skilled nursing facility in the County.
As soon as Diane Bustos heard about the closure, she began making plans to have her father transferred to another facility in Santa Fe.
Before the move she was able to visit him nearly everyday. Now, she can only make it to Santa Fe two or three days a week.
“(As soon as) I found out this place was closing I started calling senators, commissioners, anyone who was political,” she said. “I started to call from Española and said, ‘What are doing going to do to help us? We need a nursing home.’”
Madrid said it was the push from community members and people like Bustos who got the County to consider building one.
“The community said, ‘This is important to us, this is a priority,’” he said.
County Manager Tomas Campos said during the April 30 Rio Arriba County Board of Commissioners meeting that once they purchase the building, the plan is to rent it out as soon as possible.
The revenue from the rental agreement will then be used to build a new skilled nursing facility in the County, Madrid said.
“It somewhat depends on who our tenant is,” he said. “So if our tenant is a nonprofit we might get more modest rent. If our tenant is a for-profit entity, we are going to be asking for market rent and that will provide more proceeds.”
Although this plan will not bring a skilled nursing facility back to the area right away, Madrid said it would help get a sort-of “down payment” for one in the future.
“We need to point that toward a new nursing facility,” he said. “A kind that aught to be the best in the region, what our folks deserve, what our ancianos deserve.”
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