[Editor's Note: This article covers the questions and comments from community members at the Gila Regional state of the hospital event held May 9, 2018. To view an article on the hospital's presentation, visit http://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/44171-grmc-holds-state-of-the-hospital-meeting-050918

By Mary Alice Murphy

After Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Executive Officer Taffy Arias opened up the Wednesday evening meeting to comments and questions from the public, a man asked why she had said earlier she did not want to talk about the past.

"This is a place to talk about the future," Arias said. "Come visit me in my office, and I'll talk about the past and I will find answers I don't know."

"We have to learn from the past, or we will be dead ducks," the same man said.

"We see mistakes from the past and try not to make the same ones," she agreed.

A woman asked questions about the hospital's website and said it showed it as having two-star quality instead of the four-star quality that has been mentioned. "Are you looking at Twitter and Facebook for the hospital?" she asked.

Doug Oakes, GRMC marketing director, said the hospital does have a Twitter account but is not using it right now. "We have several Facebook accounts, one for the hospital, one for recruitment and one for Beginning Years."

A woman asked if the hospital was in danger of going private. "That would be a disaster. We need our hospital."

Arias said it was up to the County Commission. "Their goal is to make sure we have health care for the future."

The same woman said she worried that quality would go down.

Another woman said: "In defense of not bringing up the past, the administrations of the past are no longer here. We have a new set of people going forward."

Lynda Aiman-Smith asked if the presentation would be on the hospital website. "It was hard to read. I saw process improvements, as well as the need for capital for equipment and infrastructure. What are the capital needs?"

Chief Financial Officer Richard Stokes said the administration has formulated a five-year capital budget, which would require about $2 million to $3 million a year. "I hear people say the building is old. Having worked in a lot of hospitals, some preventative maintenance may not have been done here. We have to do things to keep it up."

He said the Commission "has done us a service to push us to do things quickly."

Arias spoke to Commission Chairman Billy Billings and said: "I owe you an apology. I changed my mind. After we presented to the commissioners, I said we would be doing these things as quickly as we could, but I think it is you, the commissioners, who have pushed us to get things done."

Scott Terry asked: "I want to know why every time I go into the hospital, I get a new account number, and why can't I access my records through the hospital? When I do get a bill, it just has the amount. It doesn't give me an itemized list of what the charges are for. The services are good in the hospital. It's the service after you're in the hospital that isn't as good."

Arias told her own billing story. "My husband had a procedure at Gila Regional five months ago. We still haven't gotten a bill. I've tried to pay them, but they can't tell us how much we owe."

"We are learning from mistakes," Arias continued. "We are not putting out another $2 million for Meditech without help. And the billing issues? Richard and I are on them."

Terry said laws need to change in New Mexico, "to get you to play on an even field. You can't give incentives like Deming can, because it's different type of medical center."

"Richard is looking at all our services," Arias said, "as well as what we can do for our caregivers. And we want to get the bill out with information on it. Hold us accountable for our timelines."

Marianne Bray said she has had excellent care at Gila Regional and no problem with billing.

A woman asked why the presentation couldn't be seen online.

"It's not you the public," Arias replied. "We don't want competitors jumping on our initiatives before we do them. Our competitors want our business. We have to protect details as much as possible. We had to give the information to the commissioners, but letting the information out puts us at risk."

Tom Blanchard asked why, when a person goes to Gila Regional, he gets a bill from out of network services. "I'm trying for a law that if a person works in the hospital, his charges are covered by the hospital."

Arias said she would be interested in discussing the issue with Blanchard.

A man asked if critical access was decided or it is just an idea.

"It is one of our strategies, but we will have public meetings before we decide," Arias said. "It's really just a technical paper trail, but we are pursuing it."

Janet Wallet-Ortiz said: "It seems like you are in with the rest of us. I hope the County Commission doesn't let the hospital slide out from under us. It sounds like you have wonderful teams."

A man asked if everything talked about by the hospital would be "up in smoke" if the commissioners sell the hospital.

"Yes sir," Arias said. "As long as we're all here, we're working hard for you and to keep this hospital."

Mikki Jemin asked about the bills and the possibility of getting them from one state. "Currently, we're getting bills from Maine, Colorado and New Mexico. It's hard trying to keep count of every bill, and is every item a whole new account number? Any idea when things might get a little more consolidated?"

Arias said the hospital has several companies that contract with the hospital, such as the emergency room, radiology, hospitalists. Each does its own billing.

Stokes said that it is very common, even in larger hospitals, that some things are contracted out. "You should have one medical record number. I think what you are seeing is the visit number. Please talk to me about specifics."

A man said when he tries to pay his bill, he sees multiple accounts.

Stokes reiterated that he is available to answer specifics.

"We are all in this together," Arias said. "Together we sink or swim. We are always open to talk to you. This is a new group. We are asking for dialogue and ideas, so we can make things better for you. Tell us what is not working."

A woman said: "Talking about marketing and wanting service right away. Some physicians tell us to go out of town because it's cheaper. If prices are comparable, we will stay here."

Stokes said the hospital has just completed pricing studies. "The hospital is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It's hard for us to compete with, for instance, a free-standing radiology center that is open from 8 to 5, five days a week. The problem is when I call Blue Cross Blue Shield, if I tell them we are lowering our prices, they say: 'fine, we will reimburse you less.' We can't really afford to do that, but it's a fight we're taking on in the very near future."

Arias thanked everyone for coming, and asked them to please eat the food provided.

Live from Silver City

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