Christus St Vincent Hospital is in talks to buy Physicians Medical Center on Rodeo Park Drive East, Christus announced today.

A deal for Christus to buy the surgical hospital, which is a partner of Chicago-based National Surgical Hospitals, may be finalized in the next few months, Christus CEO Alex Valdex tells SFR.

Valdez says space constraints at the main Christus facility necessitated that the hospital either build on to the existing facility or enter into a deal such as the one proposed with PMC.

"There is a peak time throughout the winter and now into the spring, it has still been very busy here," Valdez says. "I kind of see it like it's almost like a tipping point—we're getting close to the tipping point where we absolutely have to add more bed capacity, and by purchasing PMC, that does that for us."

Valdez says PMC has 24 patient beds.

"To be able to have another 24 beds to be able to utilize will help us here also...That will enable us to shut down some of our rooms here so that we can then renovate two-patient rooms into private patient rooms," Valdez says.

Valdez says it hasn't been decided "with certainty" what services will be provided at PMC, but tells SFR it's "very possible" that the orthopedics specialty surgery currently done at PMC will continue under Christus.

National Surgical Hospitals Corporate VP Charlie Smith has a different conception of the pending deal, saying he believes Christus would take over PMC as it is, and PMC would continue to provide the same specialty services.

"The intent would be to do all the surgeries that are being done there now, is my understanding," Smith says. "[An arrangement changing the services provided] would be news to me. This is probably the premier surgical center in Santa Fe."

Smith says surgeries performed at PMC are primarily elective.

"This is a wonderful opportunity for Christus and the community and the doctors to be involved in this facility and to be able to do more surgery there," Smith says. "The focus of this facility is on the delivery of really high-quality outpatient and inpatient surgical services and it draws from patients not just in Santa Fe, but outside of Santa Fe."

Based on Smith's description of the takeover, it's not clear how it would create more room for patients at the main Christus facility.

The announcement comes shortly after Santa Fe County decided to give Christus less indigent health care money than it has in previous years. Valdez subsequently approached the City of Santa Fe with a request that it divert the money it usually gives to community social service providers to the hospital, but the council hasn't debated that proposal yet. Valdez says the hospital is going into the next fiscal year with a $21 million deficit, but says the PMC deal will be using money from Christus and SVH SupportCo, the nonprofit that provides some Christus services.

"We are not using our operational budget for this purpose," Valdez says.

Valdez won't give a dollar amount on the PMC deal's cost.

Rumors of Christus negotiating to buy other local health care facilities have been floating around in recent months, but Christus has denied them. At a Feb. 22 meeting of the Santa Fe County Indigent Hospital and Health Care Board, County Commissioner Kathy Holian asked Valdez if Christus planned on buying Physicians Plaza on Hospital Drive, according to meeting minutes. Valdez responded that the hospital "at one point looked into obtaining a majority interest," but weren't any more.

"I'm not very happy about [the PMC deal]," Holian says. "I am a little worried about them essentially creating a monopoly on all the medical facilities in Santa Fe County."