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[Editor's Note: This is part 2 of a multi-part series of articles on the County Commission work session and regular meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The Grant County Commission at its work session on Nov. 17, 2020, heard a virtual UNM School of Architecture presentation on potential designs to revamp the Bataan Park memorial, which can be read https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/61297-grant-county-commission-heard-virtual-presentation-on-bataan-memorial-park-at-work-session-111720 .

After completion of the presentation, department heads gave their county reports.

Planning and Community Development Director Michael "Mischa" Larisch presented his report.

"We have received four proposals of interest in developing an outdoor recreation trails master plan," Larisch said. "They have to put in a notice of interest. This issue was on our Comprehensive Plan."

He said Bohannon Huston Inc. is working on bids for Bataan Park. "We received the funding agreement for Bandoni, but we need the GL (general liability) code for bidding. We are working on designs for Colonias projects on Ridge Little Walnut and Truck ByPass roads. We approved three businesses for CARES Act funding. Once you approve them, it will wipe out our funding."

Road Superintendent Earl Moore said the maintenance project on Airport Road is done, except for the punch list. "People are impressed with that road and North Hurley Road. "

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked why dryness affects road maintenance.

"Our dirt roads have a cap on them," Moore explained. "If we blade it when it's dry, it may break down the cap, then it would become a puddle when it rains. I have property owners call me and say, 'please don't blade my road until we have moisture.' It's been tough this year, with basically a non-existent monsoon. "

Larisch said he, too, has been receiving compliments on North Hurley and Airport roads, but "people need to pay attention to the speed limits."

General Services Director Randy Villa said he had nothing to report.

At the regular meeting on Nov. 19, 2020, reports began with a presentation by Gila Regional Medical Center prior to elected officials giving reports.

GRMC Interim Chief Executive Officer Scott Landrum said he would be giving another report at the Governing Board meeting scheduled to begin at 1 p.m. the same day. In the regular meeting, he previewed the board agenda.

"There are two action items on the agenda," Landrum said. "The resolutions address the about $1.1 million we will receive from the cigarette tax proceeds. About $135,000 is for electronic records at the Cancer Center. The second resolution will be approval of the remaining funds to close out our bonds.

"We are on our way back to financial recovery, thanks to funding we have received," Landrum continued. "We continue to show improvement in finances. We are not quite yet to break even, but we are approaching it due to improvements in the revenue cycle. The revenue cycle begins with meeting the patient, through their treatment, all the way through to when the patient is discharged. Brenda Perry just arrived last week as our interim revenue cycle person to replace the one who had been here. We will hear from her at the December meeting, after she has been here for a few weeks. Rob Holguin, the radiology director, will be at our executive session meeting today to talk about the radiology group, but we will approve the group in December. We have a great group, but many will be retiring. We are reviewing other providers. I have been working with Priscilla (Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director) about what we will be asking the state for at the Prospectors meeting. We have to be careful about how much we ask for, so she is helping us prioritize."

He noted that during COVID it's difficult to talk to staff members. "We have meetings with the directors five days a week and nursing huddles seven days a week, as well as a safety and operational huddle every morning. We are doing them virtually from the conference room, where we have a few people. Then to the board room for a few nursing and medical staff members, and on to compliance on the hill and others call in. We share what's going on in the hospital looking back, as well as forward. It's not easy. For an example, say 'Bob' in housekeeping is trying to let his staff members know about what's happening. Our governing board chair, Alicia Edwards, asked for better communication. We have created a weekly newsletter that goes to all the staff and to the board. The next one will talk about what we've done with finances. I think we are doing a good job, but, of course, I would say that. It's not just us, it's a team of everyone at the hospital to get up to speed."

"We continue to provide quality care," Landrum said. "We are now critical access, so we are working to stay with no more than 25 patients at a time and no more than a four-day stay. Gila Regional is critical access on steroids. About 80 percent of our patients are outpatient. But we had two critical patients this week, not COVID related, that we isolated and then transferred them to where they could get the best care. You have a phenomenal hospital."

Edwards asked for an overview on COVID.

Landrum said the hospital had a special medical staff meeting on Wednesday to talk about the surge plan. "We are not like some other hospitals, such as El Paso. We are not overwhelmed with COVID. With the surge plan, if we get a lot more cases, we will shut down elective surgeries and rehab. We can call in additional physicians, such as from HMS (Hidalgo Medical Services). We are not surging here. Yes, we are confronted with some cases, but they are low numbers. We are continuing as usual, but we are putting up a tent outside the EMS bay at the emergency room. People coming in with respiratory issues, we will process them through the tent. We have opened a second entrance to the hospital. The front door is for staff and those who have infusion appointments. They have to make arrangements for someone to come get them out of their vehicle to go into the hospital for infusion treatments. Our other entrance is through the Emergency area. We have a lot of surgeries happening and we take the temperature before they enter the rest of the hospital. We had 16 or 17 surgeries yesterday. We are managing the situation well. We have prepared for the potential of a surge."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne noted that in the region, "we are seeing positive cases surging. Where we used to have 3 or 4, we've had in the teens and 20s. We can look forward, if cases are increasing, to hospitalizations going up."

Landrum said it was possible, but most cases they have seen have gone back home to recuperate. "Yes, positive cases are going up. That's why we had the medical staff meeting yesterday, where the chief of staff, Dr. Brian Robinson, complimented (Chief Nursing Officer) Kelly Rodriguez for what a phenomenal job she is doing and the great job Gila Regional is doing."

Browne said he understands the public needs to know what the hospital is doing. "I think it's mathematically impossible that we will not have more COVID patients."

Landrum said the hospital has six ventilators in the ICU, but that can be increased to eight or 10 in the "zipper area."

"Yesterday, we had only one COVID case, and that person is doing well," he reported.

Browne encouraged Landrum to give numbers of COVID patients, if not daily, at least weekly.

"Yes, we should," Landrum said. "We know people are worried. Because everybody and I emphasize everybody has a different experience with the virus. I've been exposed three times so far, not within the last14 days, and I've been negative. We are very protective of our patients' rights. We have yet to be overwhelmed and are hoping we won't be overwhelmed."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if the hospital has the Quip test.

"Yes, a week before last, we got some," Landrum said. "But with the Quip tests we had we still had to do the PCR test and send them to the state. I want to stress that people can't just get tests because they want to. There are not enough supplies. It's only for the symptomatic. We don't have enough Quip tests to test everyone."

Salas asked about if a doctor and nurse have been exposed.

"We have a nurse working with medical staff," Landrum said. "Yes, there have been exposures to EMS staff and others, and yes, we have tested on a case-by-case basis. Right now, if a family member of employee has tested positive, we test the staff member. The tests are ordered by a physician and we test on a case-by-case basis. We are about to have a four-part test for flu, COVID and two others at the same time."

District 1 Commissioner and Commission Chair Chris Ponce said he appreciated the newsletter, and "I thank the governing board chair for her letter."

With no public input, the agenda moved to elected officials' reports.

First up was Treasurer Steve Armendariz. He congratulated officials who were re-elected. "It's a testament to the jobs they are doing. I would also like to thank all the county employees within this building and outside for their dedication and cooperation from the shutdown to the reopening to the shutdown. I think we're being successful in meeting taxpayer needs. I thank my staff for doing an outstanding job. We have some recent changes, with some of our employees having moved on to other positions. I hope they do well. I congratulate them."

Armendariz reported that for only the second report for this tax year that 26.25 percent of the total has been collected, with nearly $1.5 million for the county and additional for the debt service. "It's $5 million to $6 million for everyone. We got the gross receipts tax distribution today for about $415,000, a little bit down for the county at $85,000-$90,000, when our average is $98,000."

He said 90 percent of the tax payments received to date were for the entire year, with people telling him they wanted to pay the full year to help out the county.

"Included in your packet is some proposed changes to the investment policy," Armendariz said. "We've been trying over a year to get something done. These are just my recommendations. I've also been working with the incoming treasurer."

Browne said the resolution Armendariz presented seemed not to have anything controversial.

"It's just to clean up the investment policy and then an explanation about why I was wanting to change the annual reporting. There's no such thing as monthly treasurer statements. Most of it is done by Linda Vasquez, who sends it to the state. Putting out a daily report is overkill. We have the information available to anyone at any time."

Browne asked if there were any reason not to have the changes on the December agenda.

County Manager Charlene Webb said she thought it would be appropriate for the new treasurer to have input. "In my opinion, it needs more work."

Armendariz said his intention was to get it cleaned up before he leaves office.

Ponce said: "Even though you have one more meeting, I want to thank you for your service."

Armendariz said he has also spoken to the Cobre School Board about their wanting a bond issue. "They have announced a special election in February on the issue. I told them the effect of waiting until the November election would put them behind a year, whereas if they do it in February, they can start collecting, sooner, because it can be put in the tax rates that are sent out in September. I encouraged the Silver Schools to do the same, but I haven't heard anything about their doing it."

Edwards asked if the school district pays the costs of a special election. Armendariz confirmed that they do, but it's about $25,000, which would start giving them revenue about a year earlier. "You have to weigh the difference."

Salas thanked Armendariz for "helping me understand what was Greek to me. You have also been a great community member, following in the footsteps of your dad."

Sheriff Frank Gomez gave the next report.

He said his department had had a positive response for their participation in the National Drug Takeback day in Cliff and Mimbres. "We also did a drive-through trick-or-treat on Halloween. We put together more than 3,000 bags and shared them with other groups, such as Santa Clara. We plan up to 15 food baskets for Thanksgiving. We have ordered two fully equipped vehicles using Stonegarden funding."

He thanked county IT staff Doug Miranda "for working to keep us online. Our new phones are awesome."

Gomez also noted the trend for domestic violence is on the increase. He said his deputies are being aggressive in addressing questionable actions, with more than 1,000 self-initiated. "It has really gone up. But the morale in the department is great and the officers are doing great work."

Salas asked about violations of restraining orders and if the offenders are simply released from detention.

"Once a restraining order is issued by a judge, a violation is an arrestable offense," Gomez said. "Once we effect an arrest, it's forwarded to a judge who determines whether to release them or not, depending on if they are a danger to themselves or others. It's basically catch and release."

Salas asked: "No more bonding?"

"None," Gomez replied. "Law enforcement doesn't always agree with the decisions."

Browne thanked Gomez for his response to a constituent issue. He also noted that he has gotten complaints about deputies on welfare checks not wearing masks.

Gomez said he, too, has gotten similar complaints. "We will be revisiting it with staff. But I must admit, one day, I was leaving the house coming to the office and received a call near where I was. I took the call, and the last thing on my mind was wearing the mask."

Edwards asked about the bonding. "If a person has a serious offense, like murder, can the judge say they must be released?"

"There is a deadline involved, and if the judge doesn't meet the deadline, the person can be released," Gomez replied.

The next article will get into the regular meeting agenda and will include discussions at the work session and regular meeting.

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