By Mary Alice Murphy
On Wednesday, March 7, the Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees held a special meeting in the hospital board room.
The board members immediately went into executive session.
During that time, Gila Regional Chief Executive Office Taffy Arias reached out to the press and said she wanted to clarify some things.
"The University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center is more than living up to its contract," Arias said. "When the contract was signed, she said such a transition should take 12 to 18 months. But they have already dedicated someone here on a weekly basis."
She addressed community concerns about the previous provider of cancer care having two oncologists coming weekly.
"The previous provider did two providers a week only at the end to catch up, because they knew there wouldn't be a transition between the old and new teams," Arias said. "UNM has done an extraordinary job."
She said UNM and Gila Regional have been recruiting for a promised full-time oncologist who will be an employee of UNM. "We have one coming on March 22 to interview and so we can show the physician the community."
Arias said she was recently in Albuquerque at the UNM Cancer Center. "Two of our radiologists were there doing training. UNM is right on their intended timeline, which is to have the Gila Regional Cancer Center at full operation in April"
When the trustees came out of executive session, the public was invited back to the meeting.
The board members presented their position statement.
"We thank the commissioners for being here," Chairman Jeremiah Garcia recognized Commissioners Brett Kasten and Alicia Edwards for their participation in the meeting. "It shows the importance of keeping communication flowing."
The statement from the board in its entirety:
GRMC TRUSTEES POSITION STATEMENT
"Gila Regional Medical Center (GRMC) is a county-owned regional hospital with a service area that includes Grant, Hidalgo, Luna, and Catron counties. It has always been and continues to be a county-owned hospital.
"The Grant County Commissioners are authorized to appoint the Board of Trustees for GRMC. The Board of Trustees is made up of Grant County residents who are committed to providing a community hospital under local control. This volunteer Board of Trustees has the full fiduciary authority to manage and operate the hospital.
"In June 2017, the Grant County Board of Commissioners hired a national firm, Juniper Advisory, to provide an in-depth analysis of ownership and management options for GRMC. The Commissioners state that no decision has been made regarding whether GRMC should remain locally-owned or whether an alternative relationship (partnership, merger or selling) would be better for the future of the hospital.
"The Commissioners, through the Juniper Advisory firm, have formed a task force to provide information on the analysis of the various options. The GRMC Board of Trustees does have representation on the County's task force.
"In May 2017, the Board of Trustees hired Taffy Arias as GRMC's permanent CEO. Following a nationwide search Ms. Arias was selected from 120 applicants after an intense, inclusive and transparent process that involved members of the community and caregivers from GRMC.
"In the short period since her arrival, Ms. Arias has recruited and retained a highly-qualified group of medical and administrative providers with extensive experience in and dedication to rural health care delivery. Under Ms. Arias' leadership, GRMC's finances are now in the black and all processes and procedures are under constant review to improve the hospital's finances. In April 2018, the GRMC Cancer Center will be fully operational and the nationwide search for a full-time oncologist is continuing. Cancer patient and family support groups are forming as a part of the Cancer Center patient services.
"In addition, the Hospital retained its Medicare Four Star Rating and was recognized by an independent organization that rates hospitals based on Medicare and Medicaid indicators as one of the Top 100 Rural Hospitals in the United States. GRMC is the only rural hospital in New Mexico to receive this recognition.
Ms. Arias is working on behalf of GRMC to increase partnerships with other health and safety organizations in Grant County, including Tu Casa, Hidalgo Medical Services, Grant County Emergency Response Services, and has begun the process to gain certification as a Level 4 Trauma Center.
"The GRMC Board of Trustees is committed to its full fiduciary responsibilities as recognized by New Mexico state statutes and is dedicated to supporting all the positive trends and enhancements that are occurring at the hospital. These include retaining providers and developing services that allow GRMC's patients to receive the highest quality of care close to their homes and families regardless of their ability to pay for services.
"Therefore, the full Board of Trustees is now recommending strongly that Gila Regional Medical Center continue to remain as an independent county-owned regional hospital in serving the healthcare needs of our communities.
This position statement is in furtherance of our fiduciary duty owed to GRMC and the communities we serve."
Signed this 7th day of March, 2018.
By Chairman Garcia, Vice Chair Victor Nwachuku M.D., Secretary/Treasurer Mike Morones, and Trustees Tony Trujillo, Jeannie A. Miller, Tsering Sherpa, M.D., and Joel Schram.
Each trustee gave an oral statement.
Morones said: "I like the fact that we're doing this. We haven't had an opportunity to state what we're doing and what we should have been doing beforehand. Over the past seven months, the public doesn't know what's going on, even though the media has covered our meetings."
"Some portion of the public is trying to undermine the hospital," Morones alleged. "We affirm the commissioners haven't made a decision. We understand the commissioners are working through the process."
Trujillo said he supported what Morones had said. "I think the commissioners have been painted unfairly as having come to a foregone conclusion. We're taking the position that we want the hospital to remain local."
"It is the commissioners' duty to answer questions," Trujillo continued. "We're stating our position. What we're doing is verifying our statement."
Arias acknowledged that the statement was "allowing us to report and tell the commissioners what we're planning."
Schram said the position statement reinforces the hospital's mission statement: "Providing exceptional quality, patient-centered care in healing environments; the vision to be the best place to receive care, work and practice medicine; and the values I.C.A.R.E., integrity, compassion, accountability, respect and excellence."
Miller said she agreed with everything that the other trustees had said.
Nwachuku said: "As a physician, my job is to provide the best care to patients. I try to provide the best care I can."
Sherpa said she felt confident with the statement. "I've been here 10 years. The hospital has had its ups and downs, but I see the silver lining. I am in support of this statement. It is good for the community."
"We all know this hospital is very critical to the health care in Grant County and the communities in the area," Garcia said. "I know we've been independent and county-owned for years. I appreciate the commissioners looking at options. We've been in deep holes, but we have come out of them. Our families, friends and neighbors depend on good health care and our good hospital. We need to look at where we want to be in two, five or 10 years."
He noted the hospital has won awards, including its 4-Star quality rating and its recent recognition as one of the top 100 rural hospitals in the nation and the only one in New Mexico. "It is so important to retain the quality of care to the community. That's our passion now and for the future. The Commission appointed each and every one of us to provide the best quality of care that we can. All I ask is if we vote to approve it that we continue to stand by it and live by it. I'm very proud of us never giving up in tough times. We stayed focused on the need to improve the hospital. I consider this to be a strong statement to live by."
The statement was unanimously approved by the board members.
The statement was hand-delivered to the County Board of Commissioners at its regular monthly meeting on Thursday, March 8, 2018.
Trujillo introduced the non-board member at the table. "Mo Chavez has helped us draft this statement. He was a former superintendent of insurance for the state and worked with the Public Regulations Commission, so he has a great background in governance."
Chavez thanked the trustees for the opportunity "to serve you. I am an attorney with a law firm that does a lot of health care work. My specialty is board governance."
The board adjourned after announcing a public meeting to be held that evening.