[Editor's Note: This is part 5 and the final of a multi-article series on the Oct. 11, 2022 work session and the Oct. 13 regular meeting. This begins with presentations at the regular meeting and includes the review of the regular meeting at the work session and the decisions made at the meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The Grant County Commission regular meeting began with the monthly update from Gila Regional Medical Center

GRMC Interim Chief Executive Officer Greg Brickner explained the hospital had switched to UKG for the human resources functions. "They are processing their first payroll under the new system today. We noticed some mistakes, so we corrected them. The money won't hit bank accounts until today and tomorrow. Because our Chief Financial Officer Patrick Banks is checking everything, I'm reporting for him today."

"Volumes in August came back from July. Surgeries also came back to break even. We are still improving on year-to-date. Liquidity is doing well. We made am early payment of about $1 million on a loan from Medicare. We continue our capital purchasing, including the roof, which was financed through a USDA grant and our own funds of $2,037,204. GRMC by the numbers: 78,889 patient encounters a year. One person can generate about 10 encounters, including lab tests and such. We have to get everything right medically and emotionally. We have about 216 encounters a day, primarily Monday-Friday. The hospital has 449 full-time employees. We work at the hospital because we get to take care of our families, our friends and our neighbors. Every one of the 449 is taking care of patients."

He noted that at the Billy Casper Wellness Center, only one pool is open. He also said that the prior Friday, EMS had stressed at 150 percent of capacity. Due to rain and cloud cover, Native Air could not respond to any emergencies.

In capital expenditures, the hospital has since the beginning of the fiscal year, spent $2.7 million, a portion of which was hospital cash, either on expenditures or as match to grants.

Brickner said the administration is expecting another extension of the Covid emergency. "The past two years, we have been operating under a public health emergency."

He said the New Mexico Hospital Association estimates the hospital treats about 1,200 Medicaid patients annually. "We need to recertify here in Grant County. We have to work through the regular process to get their insurance or we will lose it by Feb. 1. We want everyone that is eligible to be covered."

On the swing bed program, Brickner said it was a critical piece to help alleviate stress on the patients, because when Grant County needs to transfer someone to another hospital, they will be stressed. But they will have the flexibility when they have had their procedure and are better, but not ready to leave the hospital, they can come home to family and get the rest of their treatment at Gila Regional.

"Every time someone comes into the hospital, the number one important item is that every time, we get it right," he said. "Within 200 miles, we are one of seven 4-star hospitals. New Mexico has no 5-star hospitals, and the only two 4-star hospitals are Gila Regional and Nor-Lea Hospital in Lea County. We are disappointed that we rank only 3-star in patient experience. We have opportunities to improve that experience We are working on them. What we do, we do extremely well. We have a symbiotic experience with the county, the city and the hospital. I hand out my business card with my personal cell phone number on it to every patient who comes in."

He said it broke his heart to hear a patient story where "we took care of the patient medically, but we dropped the ball emotionally. She came in and talked to me. I want the feedback."

Many hospitals around the country are struggling. "We saw an acceleration of bankruptcies at the end of September. Partnership with the community is critical. We have to get it right for everyone of the 78,889 patient encounters we have every year."

District 2 Commissioner Javier "Harvey" Salas asked if the hospital was seeing trends in dissatisfaction in the surveys. "Do they love the doctor, love the nurses, but wouldn't recommend the hospital? The mismatch in comments is where we learn. And on the swing bed program, those who go to Tucson, Las Cruces or Albuquerque, do we give them the information that they can come back for further treatment?"

Brickner said the program is not fully implemented yet, but "we will do marketing to the metro hospitals letting them know that the patients can come back to Gila Regional."

On a recent CT scanner outage, District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards asked what the holdup was on getting it repaired. Brickner said CT outages were fairly common, but it took four days to get the parts, as they were stuck in Memphis. "This is the longest outage I've experienced. It was a special part just for the CT."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked what the difference was with 4-star hospitals in Arizona from those in New Mexico. "Is it the legal structure, or because they are in bigger cities? What's the problem?"

Brickner said he would research it for an answer. "We were a four-star, then when we turned critical access, CMS pulled the designation, and then after a review, we got it reinstituted."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said he appreciated Brickner's presentation at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. "I see these reports and I see things we need to work on. I would like to hear the things we need to work on. When we get into the weeds, I don't see progress coming. No one is perfect, but I would like to see community rumors about the hospital go away. I have complete confidence in the chair and vice chair of the governing board. We are 1000 percent better than we were two years ago, but we continue to have our struggles. I would like to see more work on the strategic plan. Thank you."

Brickner said: "I welcome feedback. At the board meeting HR Director Ramona Wilson asked one of you to participate in a patient satisfaction committee. Dr. Robinson has joined the committee. We have to make sure every patient encounter is as perfect as possible. I also met with the Silver City Fire Department to create a partnership."

Ponce said not everyone is going to be happy "no matter what you do. The biggest thing is that Grant County patients get the best care possible. A lot of the employees are Grant County residents. We owe it to them. I tip my hat to them. Unfortunately, everything is about money, but we also have to understand we have patients."

Billings said looking at the patient experience from the emotional side, "when emotional needs are not met, why not? It's a people-to-people thing. I think the morale of the people working is related to the patient experience. If you raise employee satisfaction, they can have a better patient experience."

Brickner said the previous interim CEO Tony Thompson was working on Studer principles. "It's critical to take care of the employees because they take care of our patients."
The next presentation came from Sheriff Frank Gomez.

Training has continued with the completion of the Grant County Sheriff's Office mandated biennium cycle for the year. It included multiple-subject material and updates in the areas of child abuse, domestic violence, emergency vehicle operations, interaction with persons with mental impairments, Narcan use and overdose prevention and more. Lt. Michael Burns provided the Narcan/overdose training to members of the Bayard Fire Department as well. Because of the mandated training, advanced training has slowed. Lt. Burns is attending the final course of the FBI-LEEDA leadership trilogy, and Sgt. Jordan, Lt. Maldonado and Det. Vega had also attended advanced training in the last month.

In September into October, the Sheriff's office continued interviewing applicants for court security officer, because of the need for more than one, now that the District Court is increasing its in-person hearings and trials.

Gomez noted deputies have spent more time on animal complaints, in addition to more traditional law enforcement issues. DWIs have also increased. "It should be stated that the number of DWI arrests is not necessarily correlated to increased numbers of impaired drivers on the road, but more likely to factors of training, good supervision and the officer's self-confidence in their skills to detect, investigate and when founded, arrest and charge."

He talked about an incident that began in Deming and ended in Silver city with a minor collision and the arrest of multiple suspects from out-of-state. "A very large amount of believed fentanyl pills, cash and a firearm were recovered from the vehicle. This is another indication that our entire country is being threatened by these toxic poisons; Fentanyl, firearms in the hands of violent criminals, as well as drug trafficking."

He noted also that another tragic issue is happening nationwide, as well as particularly in New Mexico—suicide. "As part of the Sheriff's Office ongoing crisis intervention programming, our staff is better able to appropriately respond to, investigate and assist families in facing what is coming in the aftermath. We are also actively intervening in many situations to prevent a tragic outcome. We hope to continue this training with a more active and immediate resource-referral program. We have applied for additional ARPA funding. I have been blessed with solid support from you, the community and the multiple disciplines represented in the Stepping Up steering committee."

Operation Stonegarden continues field activities in the Hachita and surrounding areas, with deputies aiding the short-staffed Border Patrol. "We are expending the remaining FY20 funds for equipment purchases and expect to close the cycle out by year end. FY21 is in midstream, and we continue field operations. The sheriff's office has been awarded $279,000 for fiscal year 2022. It represents a flat budget, but with careful management will suffice to maintain a continuum of coverage and operations. Due to inflationary costs, only one vehicle will be possible this year."

He noted the department has a total of five new patrol vehicles in stages of being outfitted. "We hope to expend both New Mexico Junior money and County Capital Outlay funds to purchase an additional two as soon as possible. We apply for many grants 18-24 months in advance, leaving us short of funding when the actual time of expenditure occurs. This is a volatile ongoing process that changes with the state of the economy, requiring my staff to constantly re-evaluate costs, funding sources and budgets. Motor vehicle fleet management has been further complicated by the lack of resources and vacant positions at the Road Department. It is imperative that the county administration seek to prevent or minimize this as management of the fleet is critical to maintaining public services."

Under the U.S. Forest Service contract, Gomez said his deputies have increased the patrol presence in the forests with the beginning of hunting season. As many hunters go far into the back country, it creates unique issues for law enforcement and other emergency services.

Gomez has hired two new deputies, Jeshua Reaser and Alejandro Gomez (no relation). They are undergoing orientation and field training prior to attending the WNMU Police Academy in the spring.

DARE programing continues in area schools, Cobre, Silver and Calvary. DARE participated in the Cobre Homecoming event and would participate in the National Drug Takeback Day Oct. 22 at Walgreen's.

Paid for with the State Homeland Security Grant, handheld radios ordered up to three months ago from Motorola are beginning to arrive.

He noted that Det. Arthur Jacob Vega would leave the department to become District Attorney's Office investigator with the Sixth Judicial District in Silver City. "We are saddened to see him go, however his being valued as an experienced criminal investigator is testament to the Grant County Sheriff's Office enhanced advanced training program. I thank him for his dedicated service at the Sheriff's Office."

Gomez asked for funding in the next budget for a third court security officer, so one was always available.

To a comment from District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards about the high mileage for transfers, Gomez said: "It's basically how the court system works. We put in 9,000 miles last month. Rehabs are sent to Farmington."

Edwards also noted the 34 animal-control calls the prior month and 43 in September. "Can you extrapolate out of the system whether each is unique or are there repeats?"

Gomez said a lot of them are simply strays. "We do have a few animal-welfare calls."

Salas asked if Narcan works for fentanyl exposure. Gomez replied: "Absolutely. All our officers are Narcan trained."

Salas asked what the department was doing for fentanyl that is reported to look like candy.

"Fentanyl is 100 times more deadly than heroin," Gomez said. "We must do education on the dangers. When a woman had fentanyl and was in a restroom in the court system, three deputies reporting to the situation had to go to the hospital. We need more public awareness."

Salas asked if there were thresholds as with other drugs, and Gomez replied: "No, but we go by federal rules, because federal charges are more stringent."

Ponce said he sees fentanyl not as a drug, but as a poison. "I hope for Halloween that people support the various trunk or treat events rather than taking their children door-to-door."

At the work session, Interim County Manager Randy Villa commissioners reviewed the regular meeting agenda.

Vasquez gave the expenditure report at the work session. The total of $2,518,440.26 included accounts payable of $2,069,956.60 and payroll of $448,483.66.

The month from Sept. 2, 2022 to Oct. 6, 2022 expenditure of those expenses above $10,000 can be seen below:


Commissioners approved the financial expenditure report at the regular meeting.

Work session, New business

Vasquez said a transfer request of a vehicle from the Road Department would go to a volunteer fire department. Most deletions were non-capital items with the majority from the Tyrone VFD.

Villa said the items are mostly older vehicles not being used, as well as out-dated SCBAs (self-contained breathing apparatus). "They got grant funding to replace them. Vehicles will come off their inventory and go to the Road Department to go to auction."

Commissioners approved the deletions and transfers at the regular meeting.

The next item under review was for the county Road Department to accept maintenance on 620 feet of Callecita del Oro in Casa Adobes. Commissioners approved the Road Department recommendation.

Billings at the work session on the issue of the Walk for Heroes said it would take place at WNMU and would draw attention to the high suicide rate of veterans and military personnel.

Vasques said the funding comes from the county, as approved by the commissioners.

Edwards asked why it was not a violation of the anti-donation clause, and Vasquez said the funding goes through the Council of Governments.

Ponce said he believes the legislators at the next session will address the anti-donation clause. Villa echoed that and said the Legislature will seek clarification and maybe send it to voters. "They want to fix the criteria."

At the regular session, Jason Quimby, WNMU Veterans Affairs officer at the time, said those who would walk in the Walk for Heroes on Oct. 22, 2022 would have two routes to choose from and those that did the 5K would be eligible for T-shirts. "The event commemorates our members of the military who have passed. It shows dedication to veterans who have served."

Villa said the item would be channeled through the regular process next year.

Edwards noted it could be in the form of a proclamation showing the county's support.

Commissioners approved it at the regular meeting.

The following item on the agenda addressed the consideration of an applicant, Ronald Hartley, to serve as the advocate member on the Tu Casa Advisory Board. Ponce requested advertising next time, but Edwards said it was a position extremely difficult to fill. Commissioners approved the appointment at the regular meeting.

The next item considered recommendations to be sent to the U.S. Department of Transportation regarding essential air service. Grant County Airport Manager Rebekah Wenger would create the draft for the commissioners to sign. At an earlier meeting, commissioners had discussed a potential four-year contract to Advanced Air, but if things changed it might be better to have a two-year contract. Edwards said Wenger would talk to Levi Stockton, CEO of Advanced Air, to determine what he could promise the county for the recommendation of a four-year contract.

Commissioners approved the recommendation as Wenger would draft the letter, so it could be sent by the deadline.

Under agreements, the only item addressed an emergency management performance grant in the amount of $105,191, with a 50-50 match with the county paying half for the emergency manager. Commissioners approved the agreement.

The agenda listed two resolutions. The first addressed authorizing the acquisition of real property for the Whiskey Creek VFD.

Whiskey Creek VFD Chief Jay Salaiz at the work session, said the purpose of the expansion is to provide more parking away from the bays. It's a safety issue. "We added on restrooms to the station to make it a main station. The current parking lot blocks the water tender and people have to walk in front of the bays. We want to move parking away from the bays, plus there is not enough parking for a full training. I would also like to allow expansion for another bay."

Billings asked about the appraisal.

Planning Director Randy Hernandez said the appraisal came in at $45,000. The county offered $42,000, but the owner countered at $45,000. The county accepted. "We went through the title process and found no liens. It will ultimately come off the tax rolls."

"If this becomes county property, why can't we get property in Mimbres for a Community Center?" Salas asked.

Villa explained that as long as there was a willing buyer and a willing seller, it simplified the process.

Commissioner approved the acquisition.

The second resolution authorized submission of an application for airport aid to the Federal Aviation Administration for airport aid to the NM Department of Transportation, Aviation Division with an obligation of sponsor matching funding and authorization to accept the resulting grant offers and the execution of contract documents for apron maintenance.

Wenger explained that two grants would be involved, with a total of $200,000, with a match of $13,000 from the state and $1,550 from the county. Commissioners approved the application and authorization to execute the contract documents.

On the issue of county vacation of maintenance on a portion of Bald Knoll Road, at the work session, Hernandez said the maintenance went back as far as 1976. "There is no actual document showing that it is an RS2477 road. The county requested maintenance in 1984, and that is the extent of the history we were able to find. I reached out to Mr. Childress at BLM. He was unable to locate a map."

Administrative Assistant Kevin Hubbs noted that approval was subject to final tweaking.

Billings said he had called Edwin Bradberry, who made the request for vacating a portion of the road. Bradberry was unable to attend the meeting because he was with his wife who had major surgery.

At the regular meeting, District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne noted that about 2 miles of maintenance had been removed in the original request. "The gates would be right where the road crosses a 40-acre parcel and clips the corner of another 40-acre parcel. The place was chosen because it is a more appropriate area for vehicles to be able to turn around."

Hernandez said there would be a process to return the right-of-way to the owner.

A vote was taken at the regular meeting, Commissioners approved the vacation of the portion of the road, 4-1, with Ponce opposing it, as he felt he had not had all his questions answered.

After recessing as the Board of Commissioners and reconvening as the Grant County Health Care Claims Board, commissioners at the regular meeting approved an indigent burial claim in the amount of $600 to Baca's Funeral Chapels. Villa said GRMC would make their request at the November meeting, as it had not met the deadline for the October meeting.

At the work session, Edwards noted Oct. 11 was the first day of early voting. "There are people with good intentions and people with bad intentions. It is deeply damaging that everyone in an opposition party is bad. Vote your values of what you want life to look like. Don't vote party. I encourage everyone to vote."

No other commissioner had a report at the work session.

At the regular meeting, just about everyone had comments. Billings said during the GRMC report, he was reminded that a commissioner had been asked to be a participant of the patient satisfaction board. Browne replied that he had accepted the position.

"Another thing," Billings said, "I was talking to Rosemary Shoemaker about the Gila Community Center. She told me that her family farm continues to wash away even after the major flooding. I plan to go out there. The sooner the emergency repairs and reclamation is done, it might prevent further damage. The typical flood season is November to February. I would like to hear from Justin (Gojkovich, emergency manager) or Villa about the $750,000 from the state. "We talked about $40,000 for county roads. I've heard the amount needed is more like $100,000-$300,000 to keep away further erosion on private farms."

Villa said he would work with Gojkovich on where and when the funds could be released.

Billings asked if the money was related to only the one flood event.

"A lot more will happen, if we have more flooding," Villa agreed. "We will have a weather event this weekend. The quicker we can get public property fixed, will also help private property owners."

Billings noted that some of the acequias in Gila and Mimbres are public and some are private.

Ponce said a point of frustration is: "Where does the Army Corps of Engineers stand on this with damage still happening and they haven't fixed the first problem?"

Edwards said the agency's not fixing the first problem has exacerbated future damage.

Salas noted that government response to the hurricane in Florida was fantastic, but "here it moves at a snail's pace."

Salas in his report, said he had a couple of questions, the first being where the county stands on code enforcement.

Hernandez said a new code enforcement officer, has been hired and is in his Planning Department office.

Salas noted that some parts of Hanover look like a third world country. "I would also like to plant a seed for the next work session to use ARPA funds for repairs at Bataan."

Hernandez said the county is still waiting to hear about the Quality of Life grant, which would pay for those repairs.

Ponce said he had talked to Freeport-McMoRan about Hanover, and they said they are getting their environmental team to address company-owned property there.

Billings said if the code enforcement officer gets out and about and "realizes we don't have policies, I would like to hear from her."

Salas said Hanover and North Hurley make the county look bad.

Browne noted it was a general problem. Villa replied that the officer had hit the ground running and letting people know "it's cleanup time and the county is taking it seriously."

On the animal control officer position, Browne said Gomez had different reasons for why the position should be in his department or should not be in his department.

Villa said after discussion, Gomez had agreed that logistical issues outweigh administrative issues, and the position should be a civilian position in his department.

Browne said he had heard that the CAD for the Regional Dispatch Authority is not yet in place.

Villa said funding was received. "I understand it is in place, but it's not up to par. The board is still working on issues. I know they have the equipment in, but the vendor is not providing what is needed. We are getting ready to have a meeting."

Browne said, he could restart going to the meetings. "I understood they were trying to cut the number of board members."

Villa said it was a public meeting, and the authority is still trying to hire a director for 911. "Amy Burns is doing the best she can as interim. I think the biggest need is where Central Dispatch sits. It's in a hole, so it's hard to get a connection."

Browne said the commissioners had heard the presentation from the Sustainable Communities of New Mexico. "There were concerns about its legislative work. I would like to see it back on the agenda.

Ponce said whether it is a yes or a no to join the group, "the biggest thing in my mind is that other counties are different from Grant County. If we join the alliance, I don't know what their representation will be at the legislative session. Sometimes a majority restricts my voice. I'm careful at the legislative session to know what my commissioners want. It would be hard to me to join a coalition if it's not approved by the majority of Grant County. My vote will likely be no."

Hubbs said he would add it to the agenda for November for a yes or no vote.

Ponce said basically the coalition is Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Dona Ana County.

Edwards agreed that one of the challenges at the legislative session is that there are not enough rural voices.

Billings said he is not opposed to it being on the agenda, but "I don't believe their positions would decrease poverty. If we tabled it, it needs to be on the agenda."

Browne said the executive director could tell the commissioners what bills they supported over the past two years.

Ponce said he appreciated the economic development report. "I've talked about renewable energy. That grant for economic development was to listen to us. When we are told if you do it, we'll help you, we have to know what Ms. Webb's wishes are when she comes back. I do have concerns on this. On the renewable energy issues, I would like to see the commissioners develop a 5-year or 10-year plan. We have a lot of county buildings, but we don't have the infrastructure. The report was talking about the film industry, which I don't understand. If we don't look at renewable energy, we'll be behind just like we already are in the film industry. Do a study to give us guidance on what we should look at. We were not given measurable information in the report."

"The other thing I would like to talk about is that I'm looking at November," Ponce continued. "We must get together again with our plans on how to move forward. I would like the commissioners to have an extra meeting in November or December on renewable energy."

"We've talked about renewable energy," Salas said. "I would like to leave this position knowing a plan is in place."

Edwards said one of the concerns was that no elected officials are on the GWEDA (Grant Workforce and Economic Development Alliance). "Now we're seeing why that is important. Our voices are not being heard."

Ponce said Charlene (Webb, returning county manager), Priscilla Lucero (Southwest NM Council of Government director) along with Eric from Better Cities need to talk about it more.

Browne asked what the Southwest Forest Collaborative was doing, as it is another organization similar to GWEDA.

Villa noted it was his last meeting at interim county manager, and he would be attending a Behavioral Health Conference in Santa Fe.

He noted that District Attorney Michael Renteria would be there, as well as The Detention Center Administrator and Sheriff Gomez would attend also.

The meeting(s) adjourned.

For the prior presentation from GCWEDA, please visit: https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/75074-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-101122-part-1; on the chamber and conference center, visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/75124-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-101122-part-2; for the discussion on essential air service, visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/75141-grant-county-commission-held-work-session-101122-part-3; and for county reports visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/75254-grant-county-commission-work-session-101122-part-4 .

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