The University of New Mexico Board of Regents approved changes to several policies pertaining to the governance of the Health Sciences Center, despite strong opposition by a large coalition of HSC staff and faculty.
According to a UNM press release, the approved motion, introduced by newly-elected Board Vice President Marron Lee, will remove the separate HSC board of directors and bring governance back to UNM.
The board approved the changes by a vote of 4-2 with regents Suzanne Quillen and Bradley Hosmer voting against the proposal.
According to the statement, the regents argued that the new administrative hierarchy would align under the leadership of the University President and would maximize efficiency, address economic concerns, remove conflicts of interest and improve governance, authority and responsibilities.
Before voting on the motions, the Board of Regents provided different stakeholders an opportunity to provide their feedback. A majority of attendees - including leaders of the local tribes, faculty and staff of UNMHSC, and community members - spoke against the proposed changes.
The interest of the community in the issue was reflected in the attendance of the meeting. The SUB ballroom was packed, with some people standing in the halls. Whenever someone spoke against the proposed changes to HSC governance, others clapped loudly to the support them.
Governor of Acoma Pueblo Kurt Riley told the Board of Regents that he graduated from UNMHSC and his first daughter also followed his footsteps and graduated from the north campus.
“The cornerstone of the UNM hospital was the Indian Health Service, Indian hospital. In 1952 a contract was drawn up and 19 pueblos at the time transferred the land and the building in exchange for services from that institution,” he said. “The 1952 contract is a three party agreement with Bernallilo country, Indian Health Service who represents the 19 Pueblos and currently the University of New Mexico.”
Riley said he is part of one of the 19 Pueblos in New Mexico, and one in Texas, who have a vested interest in the management of the entirety of UNM, and particularly in this case in the University hospital, because UNMH was overseen by the HSC Board of Directors.
He said that the members of his Pueblo and that of 19 others are invested in what is being proposed.
“I was not notified of this proposed change until late Saturday and I had just the weekend to obtain the redline version of the proposal, and as everyone has said before more eloquently than I have that there needs to be a time for public comment,” Riley said. “I would respectfully request that you delay any action on the proposed changes.”
Karla Da Abeda, administrative officer at the Health Sciences Center, said the HSC is already extremely well-run.
“I have worked at main campus and now I work on north campus. I can tell you there is a great difference. Chancellor Roth is a fabulous person. He listens. He asks questions, he gets input before he makes any drastic changes,” she said. “He is a fair leader and I think that the proposed changes to the management of the hospital are a takeover of the hospital by few regents who recently got promotions on the board.”
Abeda said the UNM administration and the Board of Regents claim the proposals were not a result of behind-closed-door meetings, when clearly there are a lot of proposed changes to the policy.
“How did those changes come up? I think it is a question to be asked. I don’t think that President Frank and regents are looking at what could be done to improve UNM; instead, just find a scapegoat to cover up,” she said.
Lorie MacIver, president of District 1199 for the National Union of Hospital and Health Care Employees, said that she was at the Board of Regents meeting to voice her community’s concerns over the proposed changes to the model of governance.
MacIver said she was concerned with the changes that are being portrayed as nothing more than “power games”.
“It is a concern for those people who take care of patients by the bedside... This effort to realign the governing body of HSC will discourage community involvement. If anything, there should be more involvement of the community in both the HSC and UNMH,” she said.
MacIver demanded that there should be more seats for residents, users, and for direct caregivers at the community colleges and hospitals.
“I am demanding that this board think cautiously about what it is doing and if you take a step back and postpone it and open it to a full public debate. The very way this thing has been presented, creates suspicions that the movers of this change are trying to move a fast one in a very fast way,” she said.
According to the UNM press release, regent Jack Fortner offered an amendment to the remaining proposed change to policy section 3.3 regarding appointment and termination of key administrators.
“Fortner suggested the language be modified to state that the University President must advise and get consent of a majority of the board of regents prior to dismissing the executive vice president of the Health Science Center. That amendment passed by a 5-1 vote with Lee dissenting,” according to the press release.
Sayyed Shah is the assistant news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.