By Mary Alice Murphy

At the Grant County Commission regular meeting on May 11, 2023, commissioners after an executive session, came out of closed session and named new members to the Gila Regional Medical Center Board of Trustees.

The county about three years ago took over the county-owned hospital as it approached bankruptcy. The hospital at the time was under an interim chief executive officer, as the previous one had abruptly resigned. The commissioners took on additional duties to serve as members of the GRMC Governing Board. One of their first items of business was to choose a management company. After research and due diligence, they chose HealthTech S3, now known simply as Health Tech.

Representatives of the company soon named a new Interim CEO Scott Manis. Vice presidents and various other officers of Health Tech began to work on bringing the hospital back to fiscal stability. Some layoffs occurred, and work on fiscal responsibility consumed the first year of operation under Health Tech.

After the rotation in and out of several interim CEOs, GRMC has at present an Interim CEO, Margie Molitor, who states her main job is to find a permanent CEO, while still overseeing hospital operations. A permanent Chief Financial Officer Patrick Banks was named last year.

Banks' latest financial report shows the hospital at about break even on finances, which considering the millions in prior debt, is excellent news. The hospital was also way behind on paying vendors, and it now has on-time accounts payable.

The Governing Board, several months ago, realized that it was time to hand the governance of the hospital back over to a Board of Trustees. The application process began, and excellent candidates stepped forward to apply and become part of the progress and success at GRMC.

The full list of applicants, who spoke at several different commission meetings, includes: Susan Beck, Curtis Beerens, Jesus Roberto Carreon, Fred Fox, Phyliss Haines-McQuaide, Susan Hanna, Willliam Hawkins, Michael Smith, Gail Stamler, Arthur Thorn, Seth Trager, Patricia McIntire, John Robert McMullen, Simon Wheaton-Smith, Betty Vega and Javier Salas (who as a former commissioner served on the Governing Board.).

Today, District 4 Commissioner and Governing Board Vice Chair Billy Billings announced that the Commission would name seven trustees, after making some changes to the resolution that would be approved for the appointments.

In the sixth Whereas, commissioners discussed and approved the removal of the word "full" from "the HFA (Hospital Funding Act) further provides that such a Board shall have full power and authority to manage and operate GRMC…"

The changes also included adding B-10 to NMSA 1978, Section 4-48B-5.

Under the portion Now, Therefore, Be It Resolved That: A. The number of appointees was changed from five to seven. In B, the effective date of appointment was changed to July 1, 2023 and a change  added two ex officio non-voting members to the listed Grant County manager. The two added are GRMC CEO and Chief of Staff as ex officio non-voting members.

Under E, language changed from "Upon appointment, the board shall select" to "shall appoint a chair (from president) and secretary."

He then listed the trustees, and because the decision was made to stagger terms, their term expiration dates:

Javier Salas, June 30, 2024
Pat McIntire June 30, 2025
Will Hawkins June 30, 2026
Seth Trager June 30, 2024
Michael Smith June 30, 2025
Fred Fox June 30, 2026
Betty Vega June 30, 2026

By a roll call vote, the list was approved 4-1, with District 3 Commissioner Edwards voting No.

During commissioner comments, Edwards explained her reasoning for voting no.

"I'd like to thank everyone who applied for consideration as a trustee," Alicia Edwards said. "Given the challenges we've faced over the last seven years, you have to admire the courage it takes to step up and take action on behalf of one of our most valuable community assets.

"My challenge and my no vote are not with who we're appointing to the board of trustees, rather it's with who we're not appointing. GRMC leadership has a long history of being overwhelmingly Anglo and underwhelmingly female, which is not in alignment with the demographics of our staff or our community.

"While incremental progress has been made, given the qualified pool of candidates, I believe we missed an opportunity to make more progress than we did," Edwards concluded.

Billings, in his commissioner report, said he was glad "we took over the hospital as the Governing Board, but it became clear to me, probably last year, that it was time to go back to a Board of Trustees. This is a good board. It is not comprised of all the ones I would have chosen, but I appreciate the process.

"I also want to thank the county staff, the manager's office and the finance officer for the budget process we've gone through this year," he continued. "I also appreciate those departments that were willing to take adjustments to their requests with congeniality. There is a lot of good going on in county government. I like seeing the cooperative work in the county."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne thanked Billings for reviewing the resolution and suggesting needed changes.

"We did not choose the Board of Trustees I would have wanted, but I appreciated the process," Browne said. "Hopefully we will get better to have improved diversity."

He also said he had a question in the back of his head. "I've heard several times references to the county going back to basics. I'm confused, because I don't want us to shy away from new investments. We have an influx of federal money with ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act), PILT (payment in lieu of taxes), and the LATCF (Local Assistance Tribal Consistency Fund). I hope basics aren't the only thing we're going to do. I think we should look forward."

District 2 Commissioner Eloy Medina reported that as serving the shortest time as commissioner and as a hospital governing board member, "I didn't realize how much the commissioners put into the hospital. I thank them for keeping our county-owned asset going. I think this is a good Board of Trustees, and I will support them."

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce also congratulated the GRMC board appointees. "They will find out they still have a lot of work left to do, but we had many good applicants. It has been a privilege and an honor to serve with these commissioners in this process. These are not all the appointees I would have chosen, but we did not take this lightly. This is, I think, one of the most important jobs that we do, to appoint community members to different boards. I thank all the applicants for applying, and I appreciate county staff and the commissioners for all the work they put into it."

"On the issue of basics, and I think I'm the one that has mentioned it the most," he continued, "we haven't had the fortune of having the money we have now. We didn't have enough for vehicles or improved equipment. With this money, we are doing things for employees, putting a new roof on the Conference Center. We all have things we want to see done for the county. Yes, we need to look at other projects, and yes, there are other things to be done. The budget process continues through the year."

The meeting adjourned.

[Editor's Note: The following series of articles will begin with the Tuesday work session and proceed through that meeting and the rest of the regular meeting.]

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