Troubled New Mexico hospital near Navajo Nation eyes regroup

New Mexico

In this May 8, 2020, photo, medical staff from Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital including Caleb Lauber, center, hold a protest over working conditions and depleted staff in Gallup, N.M. Many nurses and doctors say staffing at the hospital was inadequate because of hospital CEO David Conejo’s move to cut back on nurses in the first week of March to offset declining hospital revenues after elective surgeries were suspended. They voiced their discontent at the recent protest calling for his resignation. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

GALLUP, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico hospital on the edge of the Navajo Nation and that became overwhelmed by the COVID-19 pandemic is trying to regroup with new leadership.

The incoming leadership team at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup is promising transparency after years of alleged mismanagement and fiscal problems that have plagued the acute care medical center, the Gallup Independent reports.

Chief Financial Officer and acting CEO Mary Bevier said she is trying to build trust with employees and working to stabilize the hospital’s finances.

Bevier has instituted “employee rounding,” a practice she learned in other hospitals. She or another member of the executive team meets personally with department heads every two weeks.

The struggling hospital made national news in May after the coronavirus outbreak overwhelmed doctors and nurses and paralyzed this community in the state’s hard-hit northwest. The hospital was low on needed supplies like masks and gowns and at least 32 hospital workers become infected.

State Auditor Brian Colon then threatened to issue subpoenas against the hospital after he said the leaders were refusing to provide documents for an investigation into the hospital’s alleged mismanagement and fiscal problems.

The trouble led to the firing of CEO David Conejo, who staff blamed for the hospital’s problems.

Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital is the only acute care medical center for the general public within 110 miles (180 kilometers) of Gallup and sits on the fringes of the Navajo Nation.

New Chief Medical Officer Val Wangler said the hospital has regrouped but challenges remain. “Our staff worked incredibly hard,” Wangler said. “Quite a few were affected personally by COVID, and they’re now returning to work. Overall, staffing is in much better shape.”

Wangler recently notified staff that the hospital had only 1,200 isolation gowns, a week’s supply. She limited their use to COVID patients during aerosolizing procedures. The ICU would begin using reusable or washable gowns, she said, and employees must extend the use of their N95 masks.

“We have a supply, but we still have to be careful with isolation gowns,” Wangler said. “The materials department has done a fantastic job.”

Bevier said gowns are coming from Los Alamos and Albuquerque hospitals.

“Going forward, it will be very hard work,” said Colin Berry, an obstetrician who resigned in May after seven years at the hospital. “RMCH just had all its income taken away. They were late asking the feds for money. They have enormous challenges. The biggest is transparency. Will they keep things secret or let the community know where they stand?”

To assure transparency, said Sen. George Muñoz, D-Gallup, the nonprofit hospital must be under McKinley County’s control. Muñoz is the newest member of the board of trustees.

“The problem is that the board is the managing entity,” he said. “Board members aren’t experts in contracting, but the board binds the county with its contracts, and then the county can’t get information … We have to have the county authorized to review and check contracts. The board is spending public money. The county should have complete oversight. Then there would be public information.”

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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