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By Mary Alice Murphy

[Editor's Note: The Beat requested this session with GRMC CEO to refute rumors and to get an update on the Cancer Center.]

Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Taffy Arias set the record straight by saying the person the hospital is working on hiring for the Cancer Center is a physician assistant.

"This will be a different model than the hospital had with New Mexico Oncology," Arias said. "The University of New Mexico will provide a full-time oncologist to the GRMC Cancer Center, so we have no need for a nurse practitioner, working independently from a physician. The physician assistant will work under the oncologist."

She said it was a perfect set up and would offer enhanced services to GRMC's Cancer Center. "The oncologist will be at the hospital Monday through Friday. When he/she is not on site for training or other reasons, he will be in constant communication with the P.A. We are also looking at video conferencing."

To address a rumor about reimbursement by Medicaid and Medicare, Arias said: "We are not worried about reimbursement, because we will have a full-time oncologist."

As for what people were saying, Arias said, because of the full-time oncologist, UNM never had a nurse practitioner being considered.

"We talked to several who were not qualified for the P.A. position," Arias said. "So because they weren't appropriate, we waited to hire until we found a qualified candidate. The candidate will be hired through UNM, and will be their employee working here. The candidate came highly recommended by physicians in the county. The candidate is under contract with another entity, but has given notice."

To a question about the radiology machine, Arias said it's a matter of the software arriving, being installed and certified. "There is no hold up. The software has been ordered and will be installed, and then certified by an appropriate entity."

As for the full-time oncologist, "UNM has an interested candidate."

The lack of the physician assistant at this time prevents the traveling UNM oncologists from coming to Gila Regional to provide care.

"The P.A. candidate, as soon as released from the commitment, must go to UNM for two-weeks of training before coming to work at the Cancer Center," Arias said. "It depends on how soon the candidate is released from the current obligation."

The pieces left before the Cancer Center is back to full operation, with its enhanced services, depends on the timing of the P.A. completing training, the radiology machine being certified and the full-time oncologist coming to Silver City.

"But the Cancer Center is still operating," Arias said. "When we receive private physician's calls and orders, we can do blood testing, port maintenance, and fluid infusions, short of chemotherapy. All our staff has been hired, except for the manager position. That position has been raised to the level of requiring at least a registered nurse. We have interviewed on site and have extended an offer to a second radiation therapist.

"Our whole contract with UNM is based on providing more services than before," Arias concluded. "The oncologist, instead of just being a traveling oncologist, will be on site full-time."

Live from Silver City

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