[Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of a multi-article series on the Commission’s combined work session and regular session on April 8, 2021. This article addresses the presentations, proclamations and the GRMC update.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The first presentation at the Grant County Commission combined work session and regular meeting on April 8, 2021 featured a report from SE Group, which has been hired to create a Trails and Outdoor Recreation Plan for the county. SE Group Director of Community Planning and Design Mark Kane said: “One of the things we’re excited about is exploring the outstanding outdoor opportunities in Grant County and looking to enhance the quality of life for residents and those who want to come visit. We want to collaborate with the Gila National Forest. We have a lot of experience with collaboration with public agencies and communities.”

He introduced Drew Pollack-Bruce, the project manager, who would present an overview of the projected steps and timeline.

Pollack-Bruce said the group is in the first phase, which is data gathering through about July. “We are working with a team in New Mexico, [name unintelligible], which is a group of GIS specialists to collect information on the trails, counting use, compiling base maps and working with the Forest Service and BLM. For outreach, we plan a project website with surveys. We will have public meetings, and we will have focus groups, with all the different features at play here. We will work hard to include everyone that is using the trails and different things they want to see. We want to identify gaps and opportunities, then we will do the visioning part in the fall. By the early part of next year, we will have a final plan. We will be checking in with the county staff weekly and regularly with the commissioners and with people in the community who are recreating outside. We will be sharing what we are hearing and want you to share with us what you hear.”

He said he had just been reminded that the group will also be working with the Southwest New Mexico Collaborative.

Kane thanked the county for sending the “fire hose” of information. “We appreciate it.”

The next presentation was from the Grant County Community Health Council. Marilyn Alcorn of the health council introduced Jeff Fell, the emergency manager and assistant fire chief for the town of Silver City, as well as the manager of the local coronavirus vaccine effort.

Fell said the Department of Health is using a population portion of the residents of Grant County as 23,111 residents over the age of 16 as eligible to receive the vaccine. Over the past month, he said, the county has had 2,542 new registrations. “As of this morning, 12,996 have registered, which is 56.29 percent of the eligible population. Just this week since Monday 243 new registrations have come in.” He noted the count has not been updated on the state level, but “we believe fewer than 2,000, more like 1,500 are waiting for their first vaccination.”

“My biggest message to everyone out there is ‘Get Registered,’” Fell said. “The time is now. The state has opened it up to everyone over the age of 16. For the age group 16-18 years, only the Pfizer is being used. The DOH is the only one offering the Pfizer vaccine here. At the health phone line we set up, we receive an average of about 15 calls a day. We have started offering the vaccine to the homebound. We are working closely with HMS (Hidalgo Medical Services) and its mobile unit. With it, we are able to reach the far reaches of the county, like Hachita and Gila Hotsprings.

“If you need assistance for the vaccine or know someone who does, please call 575-597-7029,” Fell said. “As soon as I get my credentials, I will be able to update our local data on the state website. We will also be making individual phone calls to those who have registered but didn’t follow through for whatever reason. I’m proud of everyone that is doing this work, and that includes Gila Regional Medical Center, HMS, Silver Health Care, Walgreen’s Walmart and everyone working on this effort. New Mexico remains at the top in the country at getting the vaccines to its residents.”

Alcorn asked if anyone had any questions from the packet that had been given to the commissioners. No one did.

Health Council Coordinator Carey Lafferty thanked all those working on the Infectious and Emerging Diseases Task Force. “Many thanks to Jeff for all his efforts.”

The next item on the agenda was the first of three proclamations. Executive Assistant Taysha Walter read the proclamation naming April 2021 as Fair Housing Month.

Commissioners approved it.

Walter also read the second proclamation naming May 2021 as Motorcycle Awareness Month. It, too, was approved.

The third proclamation, a proclamation of achievement, was brought by District 2 Commissioner Javier “Harvey” Salas to recognize Luis and Ramona Morales, who were born and raised, met and married in Santa Rita. They, with a disabled daughter, were pioneers in the area, advocating for services for the handicapped. “That started them on the journey to helping all those who are handicapped. Luis became a well-respected teacher and coach and is recognized in the Western New Mexico University Hall of Fame as an educator. Ramona and Luis began the organization, Grant County Association for Disabled Children to better care for their disabled daughter Mary Lou. The association became part of the Southwest Services to the Handicapped Children and Adults (SWSH). Ramona was the assistant director and became the director. This will recognize her posthumously. She got her husband and their other three daughters involved in the effort, too. One of the daughters is now a special needs teacher. We want to honor them for their contribution to those with disabilities.”

Walter read the proclamation, and commissioners approved it.

Interim GRMC Chief Executive Officer Scott Landrum asked Interim Chief Financial Officer Greg Brickner to give the financial report before he gave his report.

Brickner said: “This is the recap of the February financials. As trends are softening, the bright spot in the financial picture is the increase in outpatient visits. Year-to-date we are down in most areas. The financial strength index uses the financials of the hospital over the past 12 months. The negative 6 percent, we know is not great, but it is 14 percent better than February of last year. Our EBIDA (Earnings before interest, depreciation and amortization) is $419,000 better than the prior year, for a total net of $760,000 better. Year-to-date, EBIDA is $1.1 million better than the prior year with $3.4 million net better.” He noted that Landrum had previously addressed the helicopter flights into and out of the hospital. Just a bit over half, 54 percent, are not GRMC patients. He gave as the reasons for the flights, relocating, weather or requests to address other locations’ needs.

No one had questions.

Landrum highlighted items from the past governing board meeting. “I know the VA contracts were left to sunset by the VA, and we had to reapply. We have had patients that had need of procedures to be done here. We have taken care of those needs and processed them as out-of-network. As of yesterday, our physicians’ information is being loaded into the VA network. Tami Bates has been working on the issue. This is the last part in the process. My prediction is that in about two weeks, we will be in network with the VA. I can’t guarantee that, but I suspect it is where we are going.”

He said several people from Health TechS3, the firm managing the hospital, have been in town this week. “We had a CEO candidate, his name was Jim Parker, here for two days. It culminated with visits with community leaders last night. He met with hospital staff, with physicians, with senior administrators and with the governing board. I think it was a very good visit, and I’ve heard positive things about him. As of this morning, a survey went out. I can tell you that the visit was a positive one. Mr. Lieb, HTS3 vice president of interim services, has been asked next month to update staff members, I think it is May 27 and 28, on the state of the state of the hospital, where things are going in the process of what we plan. The state of the state has been shared with physicians, department managers, etc., so I think he is planning a format, now that we are beginning to relax a bit from COVID, I hesitate to say that, to hold sessions outside, as we’ve been doing.”

“I can tell you we have a new physician,” Landrum said. “He is Dr. Ian Rabinowitz, a new medical oncologist furnished by UNM. He will be providing services through telemedicine. We have ordered new equipment where the patient’s experience will be very fine. Our success at the cancer center is because of the nurse practitioner, Marvin White, who we have in the center. He will host the telehealth. What UNM is working on is to increase the happiness with the experience. Of course, the treatment is not fun, but we’re hoping to help the experience. We have a new radiology group. Our own Rob Holguin went through several radiology groups. Our current one was doing a great job, but they decided to retire rather than replace themselves, so our new group started on April 1. They are in house Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, so it allows us to do cardiology procedures with radiology on Thursdays and Fridays. One of the things that are appropriate, you all, as the governing board, credentialed a whole bunch of radiologists in the group. If you have an X-ray in the hospital, it goes out to one of their specialists. I think this will increase the quality of care. We also do almost 300 deliveries a year and lots of outpatient work. I think this is another increase in quality. I’m only missing one department manager. I committed to you that I would try to get them all filled. The only one missing is the radiology director, so we are recruiting for that. We have a new lab director, a new pharmacy director, a facilities director that has applied. We are looking at concerns about waiting time. “They will be getting back to you, Commissioner Ponce. We keep percentages, and they look pretty good.”

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne asked about the facilities director. “Is this the one we hired several months ago?”

Landrum said the fellow had been a traveling consultant, but “he decided as of this week that he would like to stay here. He’s a very strong candidate among the applicants. But we have to look at all the applicants. Our current facilities director relocated to Las Cruces.”

The next article in the series will begin with county reports.