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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Top Stories

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

RCH board OKs $8 million expansion project

Staff Writer

PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- The Reeves County Hospital Board accepted a bid for nearly $8 million from Cooper Construction Inc., of Odessa for expansion and renovation of the hospital's facilities, during the regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night at the hospital.

Hospital administrator Robert Vernor recommended Cooper to the board over four other companies that submitted bids for the project.

"Cooper submitted the lowest qualifying bid," he said.

Vernor said that as well as having the lowest bid Cooper was an Odessa company with a very good reputation for hospital construction.

"The buck stops in Odessa with Johnny Cooper. If there is a problem during construction he makes the final decision, not somebody we have never met in a corporate office out of state," Vernor said.

Cooper Construction was in charge of the recent work done at Odessa Medical Center. Vernor said that he had inspected the work and spoken with officials at Odessa Medical and that he was impressed with the quality of work.

Board member Bill Wendt pointed out that the bid submitted by Cooper also had the most detailed infection control plan.

"When we get to the interior renovation we will working in some very sensitive areas such as labor and delivery next door to the operating rooms. The area has to be sealed so that there is no cross contamination. An infection control plan was a pre-qualification requirement and Cooper went into great detail on how they would do it. It's a good plan," Vernor said.

Bill Oglesby and John Grant were on hand to recommend a plan for financing the project to the board. Oglesby is president of Security State Bank and Grant is president of West Texas National Bank.

Oglesby told the board that after examining the hospital's projected cash flow the hospital could afford to borrow roughly $5 million of the needed $8 million. Of that amount, he said that Security State Bank and West Texas National Bank combined could loan the hospital about $3 million, while the other $2 million would come from banks outside of Pecos.

Grant said that the cash flow projections that the banks used did not include tax revenue the hospital would collect, because the loan would be in the form of revenue bonds rather than general obligation bonds.

"Taxpayers have to vote on bonds of general obligation and the hospital can then pledge tax revenues to pay back the bonds," he said. "Since tax payers do not vote on revenue bonds the hospital cannot use tax revenues to pay the bonds back, so the cash flow projections do not include any money the hospital receive in taxes."

Oglesby said that the $5 million loan (in the form of revenue bonds) would be for a period of 15 years at a fixed interest rate of 5.625 percent.

The hospital would need to pay for the other $3 million needed for the project from the hospital surplus.

Vernor said that the hospital had approximately $8 million in the bank, and planned to use about $3 million of that for the renovation and expansion.

He added that while $8 million might seem like a lot of money for the hospital to sit on it really was not that much in comparison to the hospital's yearly budget.

"Our annual expenses run about $10 million. We cannot afford not to have a reserve in the event that our revenues drop and that seems quite likely," Vernor said.

Vernor said that the hospital had collected about 30 percent less for its outpatient services over the past two years because of a change in Medicare billing instituted by the federal government. That equals a 15 percent drop in total revenues for the hospital.

"It is not unlikely that the federal government will reduce the national health care budget this year. If the Medicare or Medicaid reimbursement is cut it will affect our revenues," he said.

Vernor said that he was pleased to see the project actually taking shape and that he was looking forward to the groundbreaking ceremony this coming Friday at 10 a.m. at the hospital.

"This project is going to benefit the hospital and the community," he said.

"We really need to expand the emergency room. It is just too small to handle the volume of service required today."

Vernor said that outpatient services that make use of the emergency room have increased dramatically over the 25 years since the emergency room was designed.

"The new dialysis unit will also be a benefit. We have identified about 25 patients locally who are currently having to drive to Odessa for this service."

Vernor said that the number of local patients justified the cost of building and staffing the facility.

"As far as the renovation _ I've said this before _ the first impression a patient gets from a health care facility is important. The look and feel of a facility plays a real role in a patient's selection of services."

Vernor said that he thought the renovation would help the hospital attract patients who otherwise might drive to Odessa to newer, more modern looking facilities.

In other business the board approved the purchase of a portable ultra-sound unit for $11,875; a new dictation system for $63,291; and new furniture for the administrator's office for $5,014.

The board also set the date for this year's election for May 3, 2003. Board members from precincts 2 and 4 are both up for election. The term for both seats is two years.

Project's groundbreaking scheduled for Friday

PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- Reeves County Hospital officials won't be wasting any time getting their $8 million hospital expansion project underway.

The hospital board approved a bid for construction during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday and Friday morning, groundbreaking ceremonies will be held at the hospital, which will also be celebrating its 25th anniversary in its current location next month.

The groundbreaking ceremonies are set for 10 a.m., on the northwest corner of the hospital grounds, at 2323 Texas St.

The expansion will consist of a new emergency room, specialty clinics, rural health clinic, physical therapy and Dialysis Center.

Hospital officials said the need for a new emergency room has existed for many years. The current layout of the emergency room is not adequate for the high volume of patients that utilize the facility. Other departments were included in the expansion to make more efficient use of space and improve the images of the hospital.

The expansion will also include space for a new Dialysis Center. These plans were confirmed after conducting a feasibility study and needs assessment for our services area.

The construction will get underway after a lengthy planning process. A team consisting of hospital administration and staff, medical staff, board members and architects focused on the Facility Master Planning process for a year.

Renovation of other areas will begin in various stages. Each stage has been prioritized to ensure that funding is available to cover the cost of each project.

Hospital officials said that taxpayers will not be burdened in financing the expansion project. Funding for the work will be provided through revenue bonds. Repayment of the bonds will be made out of revenue generated from the hospital.

Completion of the construction phase is expected to take 11 months.

I-10 reopens, storm linked to 9 fatalities

From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- Travelers stuck at locations along Interstate 10 in West Texas since Monday night were finally able to get moving today, as the Texas Department of Transportation reopened sections of the highway that were closed due to icing conditions.

The closing of I-10 was one of four interstates in Texas shut down due to Monday's ice storm, which continued in parts of Central and North Texas on Tuesday.

Interstates 20, 35 and 45 south and east of Dallas-Fort Worth were closed all night by jackknifed tractor-trailer rigs, stranding hundreds of motorists in their cars, state officials said.

"As soon as they clear one collision, another was happening," said Senior Corporal Robert White of the Texas Department of Public Safety.

About 350 to 400 drivers were stranded on Interstates 35-E and 35-W, just north of Hillsboro. They were offered shelter at a church in Hillsboro.

Some sand trucks were stranded, and even tow truck operators were having problems. Gerard Gonzalez said it took him about three hours to drive 25 miles.

"I spun out in my little old car and hit a tree," said the 59-year-old who braved the roads Tuesday night with his wife in his sedan to retrieve a large truck from his company. He recovered, though, and made it to his office.

I-10 was shut down late Monday night between Comfort, 50 miles northwest of San Antonio, and the Pecos River crossing, but traffic eastbound was stopped by TxDOT crews at Fort Stockton until 8:15 a.m. today, causing motels there to fill up with travelers. Eastbound traffic was also stopped in Ozona, Sonora and Junction.

The Texas Department of Public Safety reported weather-related traffic fatalities in several counties, including Fannin, Colorado, Kendell and Fayette, spokeswoman Tela Mange said.

Kendall County Sheriff's Deputy Charles Motz found the body of Trudy Harris, 76, of Fredericksburg, beside her crumpled vehicle about 9 a.m. Tuesday under a bridge on I-10 near Comfort.

A traffic death also occurred in San Antonio. However, the Texas Department of Public Safety in Ozona reported no accidents during the 34-hour closure of Interstate 10 in West Texas.

According to the DPS office the closure of the interstate helped prevent any accidents.

Ramon Saenz Flores, 34, who was fifth in the trainer standings at Sam Houston Race Park near Houston, was killed Tuesday morning when his pickup hit an icy patch on an Interstate 10 overpass in Schulenburg, a DPS spokesman said. His passenger, animal groomer Rafael Hernandez, 40, of Fort Worth, was in stable condition at Fayette Memorial Hospital with minor head and internal injuries, DPS said. Track officials said the horses were in good condition.

In northeastern Bexar County, Modesto Garza Jr., 49, died about 8 a.m. after he lost control of his vehicle on an icy Salitrillo Creek bridge near I-10.

Along with the weather-related traffic fatalities, three immigrants died of exposure to the cold in South Texas as the result of the cold front that pushed into the far southern reaches of the state.

The National Weather Service said more freezing rain is possible Wednesday in East Texas before temperatures begin to lift slightly above freezing later in the day. Nevertheless, freezing drizzle was expected Wednesday morning in North and South Central Texas, and many schools will remain closed for a second day Wednesday.

The ice and snow that hit parts of the state on Monday missed the Trans-Pecos region, and a second line of storms that were predicted to bring sleet to the area Tuesday night failed to materialize. However, temperatures never got above 40 degrees on Tuesday, according to the Texas A&M Experiment Station west of Pecos.

Tuesday's high was only 38 degrees, while the low this morning dropped back down to 26.

Temperatures were even colder to the east.

At Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, the temperature Tuesday never topped 28, a record-low maximum for the day breaking the 1960 record of 35, said National Weather Service meteorologist Chris Robbins. In South Texas, Corpus Christi set a daily record for the lowest high temperature: 38. The previous record for the day was 48 in 1960, said National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Burton.

At DFW Airport, at least 36 flights were canceled Wednesday morning as freezing drizzle forced aircraft and runways to be deiced. Airport spokesman Ken Capps said the airport train remained shut down Wednesday morning.

"It was a very cold day in South Texas," Burton said Tuesday evening. "We usually don't see temperatures confined to the 30s for daytime highs."

U.S. Border Patrol agents from Falfurrias apprehended five immigrants Tuesday morning who told them they were desperately searching for help for a friend who had become sick in the brush. Agents found the man dead of exposure. Fifteen minutes later, agents found two more bodies nearby. It wasn't immediately clear where the men were from.

The sleet and ice that hit Monday night remained on the ground Tuesday to bedevil motorists in North Texas, and another round of icy weather forced the closing of portions of Interstates 35 and 10 leading out of San Antonio late Tuesday night.

Several residents of an apartment complex in Mesquite weren't able to drive after carports collapsed under the weight of ice, trapping about 50 vehicles in their parking spaces.

Officials at Austin-Travis County Emergency Medical Services said they have mobilized private ambulance services to help answer the many calls from people injured in falls on icy walks and steps. They also have asked fire trucks to help transport people to hospitals.

The storm shut down hundreds of school districts throughout North, Central and East Texas on Tuesday, Texas Education Agency spokeswoman Debbie Graves Ratcliffe estimated.

Some students perhaps rejoiced at the news, since Tuesday was the day they were scheduled to take the new Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) examinations across Texas.

Schools that were open by 10 a.m. were advised to give the test, while those whose doors remained closed were to give it on the next full school day, Ratcliffe said.

Most of Waco's Baylor University shut down Tuesday, but 70 law school students went to class anyway to start taking the three-day state bar exam, which is given twice a year. Because the same exam is given at several locations in Texas, any delay of even a day could threaten the test's security, officials said.

"It's tough out there in (law) practice, and we try to get them ready for that here," said Baylor law school dean Brad Toben. "You know, courthouses don't always close because of inclement weather."

Plate sale Friday at Saragosa Hall to benefit family

PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- A red enchilada plate sale will be held from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Friday at Santa Rosa Hall.

Deliveries will be made and plates are $4 each. For deliveries call 445-2302 on Friday.

Proceeds from the plate sale will go towards medical expenses for Mary "Lila" Bitolas.

Soil conservation district providing young trees for sale

PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- The Upper Pecos SWCD #213 still has some trees for sale.

Afghan Pine Seedlings are $2.50 and Honeysuckle Hardwoods are $1.50.

Individuals can order two and five gallons Afghan Pines.

For more information or to place an order call 445-3196, extension #3.


PECOS, Wed., Feb. 26, 2003 -- High Tuesday 38. Low this morning 26. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 30s. West winds 10 to 20 mph. Thursday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 60s. West winds 10 to 20 mph. Thursday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the upper 30s. Friday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 60s. Saturday: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 30s. Highs in the upper 60s.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321

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