A bid by UNM’s Health Sciences Center to manage a community hospital in Gallup moves forward as the Board of Regents approved Tuesday a motion to uphold community health in the state.

Six of seven regents approved the motion, which permitted the HSC “to engage in regional and local hospital affiliations and enterprises.” The motion was proposed by Regent Gene Gallegos. Board of Regents President Jack Fortner did not attend the meeting.

UNM Health Sciences Chancellor Paul Roth, who made a presentation at the meeting about the partnership, said the University aims to assist small community hospitals around New Mexico. He said the regents’ approval of the motion is an important step.

“We enjoy the benefits of a full range of relationships, particularly with health care facilities,” he said. “Each community has different needs, the Health Sciences Center has different needs, and what we need to do is perform a marriage of these two needs so we can best serve the mission and the plan for the center.”

Last month, UNM announced a partnership with Texas-based company LHP Hospital Group to manage Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, a nonprofit hospital in Gallup. According to their request for proposal, LHP would have an 80 percent share, while UNM would have 20 percent. The specific details of the agreement are still being worked out.

Besides the regents, other state oversight boards would still have to approve the venture before it finally goes through.

Roth said it is a part of UNM’s mission to help these hospitals maintain community health around the state.

But regents expressed their concern about financing other community hospitals in the future in the meeting.

According to its agreement with LHP, UNM will not invest capital to Rehoboth.

Gallegos said although partnering with community hospitals is a good initiative, he is reluctant to proceed with these kinds of partnerships.

“Hospitals are a business,” he said. “I see there’s a market, and it’s one that’s risky and very dangerous. It may be a bad business or a good business. That’s something that we really need to hear about.”

Roth said he admits partnering with smaller hospitals might be a “potential liability” to UNM because of their funding cuts. He said the state’s “hospital business has always been a challenge” because of New Mexico’s “poor population.”

Board of Regents Vice President James Koch mirrored Gallegos’ financial concerns. He said partnering with hospitals is an uncertain move because the University would not be able to just pull out in the future.

“So we go in with (LHP) and we’re 20 percent partner and then in five or 10 years they pull out,” he said. “And who’s left? We are. The pressure would be tremendous on us to do that.”

But Regent Suzanne Quillen, who is CEO of a private Las Cruces hospital, said many small community hospitals will desperately need UNM’s help to continue operating in the future. She said about 1,000 hospitals nationwide have been merged or acquired by larger institutions and companies during the past year.

“The hospitals’ business model and the success of that model…does depend on quality outcomes of those facilities,” she said. “To do that, that requires successful hospital operations. More hospitals are going to be unable to survive the way they have been in the past because of the reality of our health care system.”

UNM President Robert Frank said he immensely supports the HSC’s partnership with LHP to manage Rehoboth. But he said that does not mean he would support UNM’s forming a partnership with every single community hospital in the state.

“I’m very supportive of examining the Gallup opportunity,” he said. “It’s well worth our time and effort, but I don’t want to give the impression of encouraging every hospital in the state to knock on our doors to do these deals.”

The University should proceed with partnerships with other hospitals cautiously, Frank said.

“We need to be careful and exhaustive with the due-diligence process,” he said. “We need to be more open to opportunities…and we could find the process that is safe.”

Still, Roth said he is optimistic about the University’s venture with LHP.

“We are all in this together,” he said. “The University is a member of our statewide community. In partnerships with local communities…we have the ability to not just survive the immediate challenges, but to actually flourish.”