[Editor’s Note: This is part 5 of a series of articles that will cover the Grant County Commission work session of Jan. 10, 2023, as well as the regular session of Jan. 12, 2023.)

By Mary Alice Murphy

This fifth article covering the Grant County Commission work session Jan. 10 and the regular meeting Jan. 12, 2023 begins with a presentation by Gila Regional Medical Center Interim Chief Executive Officer Gregory Brickner at the regular meeting.

“We are trying to instill a bias toward action,” Brickner said. “Asking staff to ask themselves: ‘What one more thing can I do today?’ Our team accomplished a lot in December. We showed in the results of the mock survey from HealthTech significant improvements from the June mock survey. Our directors continue to work through the opportunities we identified. Our IT team is doing the preliminary groundwork for upgrading our electronic medical records to Meditech Expanse later this year. And demo sessions will take place to show everyone what is coming and to build energy behind the project.”

He reported the maintenance team had installed a new washing machine, which would be in operation later in the month. “Our clinical teams began a cross-training process to improve collaboration. Ryan Cypser has joined our team as an interim Lab Director and has hit the ground running. The lab completed the purchase of a new Sysmex urinalysis analyzer.”

Brickner noted the hospital has signed the contract to start the renovations of the Maternal Child area. This is a long-awaited project, and the contractor has committed to being substantially done by June 30. “We celebrated with cookies.”

“We are working hard on physician and provider recruitment,” Brickner said. “I hope I can announce some wins in the coming weeks because of our efforts in December. The medical staff completed a bylaws review that is the culmination of an enormous amount of effort. The medical staff also elected new officers as they are self-governed. Dr. Greg Koury is the new chief of staff.”

He said: “We completed a hospital-wide performance review for every employee, which is the first step toward our merit-based pay increases happening this month. This is normal in many organizations, yet for us as we work toward rebuilding the culture, it is a significant undertaking.”

Brickner thanked the GRMC Auxiliary for funding a scholarship for an OR nurse to gain the training necessary to become a surgical first assistant. “The auxiliary’s help and support is impressive, and this will allow us to grow our talent and promote from within. Please make a purchase from the gift shop next time you visit us. Their financial support is returned to the community through great deeds like this scholarship.”

He noted the hospital celebrated the holidays with staff by sharing steaks and tamales together. The OR team did 258 procedures during December. “We may count procedures, but the reality is that each one of these is a friend, family member or neighbor calling on us for outstanding healthcare.”

Brickner gave highlights of how vital GRMC is to the community. “If GRMC were not here, it would mean for those same OR procedure recipients, 258 commutes out of our market to the metro areas with more than 2,000 hours spent in a car, assuming each patient had only one friend along.”

“I am grateful that GRMC is here for the community,” Brickner said. “We must remember that this hospital almost closed three years ago. The work toward recovery still continues today. In my remaining weeks with you, I am pushing to continue the bias toward action among our leaders.”

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards said she is very optimistic about the hospital and appreciated his sharing his optimism.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked for clarification on the hospital almost closing three years ago. “Is that from rumors you heard from the community or is that from your forensic accounting when you were CFO and CEO?”

Brickner replied that it was from his research. “It was at several points. At the end of 2019 and early 2020, Gila Regional had only nine days of cash left and had 70 days of accounts payable outstanding to pay vendors, and it had to meet payroll. That juggling can only go on so long when you’re losing money. All of our finances are publicly available at the state auditor’s website. And if you studied them, you would see the drop of $54 million between 2014, I think, and 2019. That’s how close the hospital was to closing.”

With no other questions, the meeting moved to elected officials’ reports.

Treasurer Patrick Cohn said his office has had a successful first half property tax collection. “In December, we collected $3,195,018.69 for 2022 taxes, bringing our collection rate to 63.41 percent. We have $4,847,817.78 in property taxes remaining collectible, which are due by May 10. Over 10 years our collection rate is 92 percent, with a total of $12 million collected and $9 million remaining uncollected. I did a comparison of January 2022 and January 2023, and we are up in collection rate by ¾ of 1 percent. So, I’m happy about that.”

Sheriff Raul Villanueva presented the next report.

“It’s an honor to be in front of you again after four years,” Villanueva said.

He said the department has answered 447 calls in December and had 720 self-initiated. “Our busiest days are Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.”

He listed 13 domestic violence calls, four stolen vehicle calls, assisting other law enforcement agencies nine times, had 43 welfare checks, which he said was high, and 30 suspicious activity calls, also higher than usual. “We encourage residents to call if they see something out of the ordinary. Twenty-nine vehicle crashes was also kind of high. We also had 40 animal complaints.”

Villanueva reported that Lt. Manny Maldonado was helping teach voice stress training.

He listed the other members of the department who were taking training.

“We hired another court security officer,” Villaneuva said. “Walter Mize will help out at the court. We are interviewing four individuals for the animal control position. None of them has experience.”

He cited several cases of interest, including 10 cases of sexual penetration and a sexual assault, with an uncooperative victim. Deputies answered three unattended deaths, all from natural causes and one suspicious death. “We are getting reports of a lot of scam calls. If they ask for personal information, do not respond.”

Villanueva said the week of Jan. 5, a Border Patrol agent was shot near Hachita. “I sent a deputy down to assist once I heard about it.”

On the federally funded Operation Stonegarden, he said they are continuing the closure of the 2020 funding and are at 95 percent of completion of the 2021 funding. “We expect the 2022 funding to become active in the coming months. In our motor vehicle fleet, we have a lot of units that need replacing. We received three new ones and two more are coming. We received $340,000 in capital outlay last year. We’ve been using white vehicles, but they are hard to find. We hope to get our high-mileage vehicles out of the fleet. We hired several who are in the Police Academy through mid-June.”

He reported the DARE program is active in Silver and Cobre schools, as well as at Calvary Academy.

He said he has had a lot of challenges in the first 11 days in office, but “I’m pleased to be doing what I’m doing.”

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne welcomed Villanueva back. “The 43 welfare checks, are they different or repeats?”

Villanueva said some are repeats.

“We’ve been hearing from your predecessor about confiscations of fentanyl,” Browne said. “I am hearing that on both coasts, fentanyl is being mixed with other drugs. Have you seen that here?”

Villanueva said he has not seen that. “I have had meetings with the task force and other agencies to get someone back in to build relationships with them. The big serious concerns are fentanyl use and trafficking.”

Browne said he had heard the concern that Narcan is not as effective on fentanyl. “On vehicles, you bought three new Expeditions?”

Villanueva confirmed that and said two more were coming. “We did an inspection, and we need to replace more. It’s hard to find white units, although there are a lot of black ones.”

Edwards said: “Welcome back. How many more units do you need?”

Villanueva said: “15. Several have more than 235,000 miles on them. They are operable, but I’m not comfortable having my deputies in them. With the five, it will help, but then we need at least nine more.”

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce asked if the welfare checks were mostly among the aging residents. “Can we reach out to other agencies to help?”

Villanueva said the majority of the welfare checks are custodial deals. “Some are aging, but most are making sure that the person is comfortable with the child being with the other parent.”

The next article will start the review of the regular meeting at the work session and the decisions made at the regular meeting.

For the preceding articles, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76055-grant-county-commission-work-session-011023-part-1; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76085-grant-county-commission-work-session-011023-part-2; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76114-grant-county-commission-work-session-011023-part-3; and
https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/76169-grant-county-commission-holds-work-session-011023-and-regular-meeting-011223-part-4 .


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