At the first Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce reinstatement of monthly luncheons, to be held on the first Thursday of each month, Chamber Board President Trent Petty welcomed those attending and announced the next one would be held at 11:30 Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Red Barn.

Petty introduced board member Tony Trujillo who introduced the other board members present, including Bruce Ashburn, Melanie Reese, Lori Bonomo, Ken Torres and William Knuttinen.

"We are excited about where we're headed with new faces on the board," Petty said. "(SC-GC-Chamber Director) Scott Terry has a new email newsletter that comes out every Friday. We are launching our new website within a couple of weeks. We send our relocation packets to attract new businesses and residents to the community."

Reese introduced the featured speaker, Brian Cunningham, Gila Regional Medical Center interim chief executive officer.

"Thanks for the invitation," Cunningham said. "I know you are committed to the community. I want to talk about the hospital and how I got here."

He said he started as a parking lot attendant at a hospital in Pennsylvania, and his "first break" came when he was promoted to elevator operator. When he began as a transport aide, wheeling patients through the hospital, he said he caught the "service bug." As a result, he studied to become a nuclear technician and then an occupational therapist.

"When I came here as rehabilitation director, I saw more opportunities to serve," Cunningham said. "The CEO told me he served a lot of people. I'm here to serve.

"Like you in the chamber, we're in transition, refocusing and reorganizing," he continued. "We are made up of good, courageous, talented, committed people who got together to create a stable and thriving hospital. Gila Regional has been insulated from changes taking place in the healthcare system. Other industries are used to the ups and downs. It's a bit more challenging for health care. We know that part of the new reality is changes in reimbursement. It's scary for many of our caregivers and, as we recalibrate and our workforce becomes used to fluctuation, fear will come out. If you hear fear from someone, ask that person if he or she has talked to me. I will always tell the truth."

Cunningham emphasized his open door policy for anyone to visit and ask him questions.

"It will take another four to six months to know what's going to happen after the new insurance exchanges settle out," Cunningham said. "At the hospital, we started a significant cost management structure about six months ago. We have been doing work on efficiencies and have found many rapidly."

He talked about the recent leadership search, which, instead of the usual nine-month process, was completed in 30 days with all internal candidates being named to the chief-level positions. "They hit the ground running, and didn't require up to a year to get used to the hospital."

Cost management efficiencies are being strategically worked on in the surgical unit and the emergency room.

"We will work it strategically to right-size the organization based on the workload," Cunningham said. "We will not do across the board cuts, but will add a little here and cut a little there. We will continue to be strategic in our managing."

He emphasized that the way to bring new people to the community is with a stable hospital, stable businesses and a stable university.

Western New Mexico University President Joseph Shepard said one of the things he is pledging to do is to support the chamber as it goes through its transition. "How can the hospital participate?"

"We're in our 60-90 day phase, and we're talking about ways to support the community," Cunningham said. "We need to have representation here on the board."

Community Access Television of Silver City Director Lori Ford said Cunningham is giving monthly updates to the County Commission.

"Yes, I am, based on what happened at the prior board of trustees meeting," Cunningham confirmed.

Ford asked how long the hospital had the Planetree program and what costs were saved by cutting participation.

"Planetree is a consulting firm that helps hospitals develop patient-centered care," Cunningham said. "Although we were already a patient-centered hospital, about eight years ago, Gila Regional chose Planetree as a contractor. We've learned a lot, but with $10,000-$15,000 in contract fees a year and the need to follow their 70 criteria, which did not always apply to our size hospital, we decided to move away from their model. It would have cost another $20,000 to get the Planetree designation, but it was taking too much of our resource time and money to address their criteria and designation fulfillment.

"It was like we were working for them," Cunningham said. "It is time for Gila Regional to develop its own patient-centered care model, based on our community. Patient-centered care is always part of our mission, and I think this move will deepen our commitment to patient-centered care."

Terry said the chamber receives any number of calls every week asking about the hospital and the university, because people want strong institutions if they are considered relocating.

"So many people and hospitals in small communities are struggling," Cunningham said. "We have a solid foundation. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us and left us with a debt-free hospital."

He reiterated that he wanted hospital representation on the chamber board, so they can help determine the issues and how to address them, as well as calming any fears. "We need to facilitate your talking to businesses."

Sue Sherman, former GRMC surgical services director, said she has "heard nothing but good comments about the positive and forward-looking individuals in the leadership. When I came here, I saw opportunities, and I think you are working to see they come to pass."

Cunningham said just this week the hospital is hiring a new director of surgical services internally. "Gila Regional is the perfect size organization that can make a difference. We have the ability here to create something truly exceptional. The community deserves nothing better than to be the No. 1 rural hospital in the country."

Sherman asked if the hospital had identified any other potential services.

"Shhhhh," Cunningham put his finger to his lips. We are in the early-to-mid stages of a pain management program, and we are having dialogue with a physician."

Tom Vaughn of Feva Photos said he hoped the next time Cunningham spoke to the chamber members, he could give more specific information on the budgets.

"We're still in generalities," Cunningham replied. "But we believe in transparency and as soon as we have firm numbers, you will hear them."

Petty said the chamber wants to help Silver City become a real college town. He also announced two ribbon cuttings, one that took place this afternoon, Friday, at Cream Peach and one at noon Saturday at McDonald's for its reopening. Thursday, Oct. 10, at 5:30 will be a meet-and-greet with the community and the chamber director and his wife Kathy at The Wrangler.

He also announced the WNMU Homecoming Parade at 10:30, Saturday.

Cynthia Bettison, WNMU Museum director, said the museum had been featured in the October issue of Money magazine, and she was looking for copies, which have been hard to find in the area.  "Also, we will hold our fundraiser Black-and-White Gala on Nov. 9. Call us for an invitation."

Kathleen Hunt of Border Area Mental Health Services said the agency is still in business, although La Frontera has taken over the Medicare and Medicaid clientele. "We're much smaller, but looking for opportunities. Clients still get services at our Hudson Street location. We're doing juvenile corrections clients, third-party insurance clients and DWI classes."

The next SC-GC Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon will take place at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at The Red Barn.

Live from Silver City

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