Activist group seeks state takeover of troubled Gallup hospital

By: - September 19, 2022 5:00 am

A screenshot from a video of a recent protest in Gallup by residents concerned about management at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital. (Via activist Connie Liu’s video)

A local group concerned about finances and patient care at a major Gallup hospital are asking the state to explore taking the facility over under a rarely invoked receivership law. 

The Community Health Action Group has protested the leadership of Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital for several years, saying the for-profit management company running the hospital is mismanaging the place. The 60-bed hospital in northwest New Mexico is the biggest facility in a 120-mile radius that doesn’t require tribal membership to receive medical care. 

Recently, the hospital announced the closure of its labor and delivery unit, where about 30 babies are born each month. About 90% of deliveries are to parents on Medicaid, according to recent testimony from the hospital’s chief executive officer. It’s the second time the unit closed in the last year. 

In addition to the unit’s closure, it suffered a $9 million loss in 2021, according to financial statements cited by CHAG. In April, administrators finally fixed a call-light system, one that had malfunctioned for months and reportedly contributed to a patient’s death. 

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“Opportunities to develop a path towards recovery have been squandered, and there is no turnaround plan,” said Dr. Connie Liu, a lead CHAG organizer, in an emailed statement.  “The State is our only hope for rescue.”

The Health Facility Receivership Act allows the state to take over a health facility’s operations if it is imminently closing, lacks a license, is abandoned or poses “imminent risk to care recipients,” said David Morgan, a spokesperson for the New Mexico Health Department. 

“This is not a normal procedure, and we would need to seek a court order to take an acute care center like Rehoboth into receivership and take control of its assets,” he told Source NM in a statement Friday. “We continue to monitor Rehoboth McKinley’s ongoing challenges and evaluate any possible next steps.” 

A Texas-based corporation, Community Hospital Corporation, is hired by the nonprofit overseeing the hospital to manage day-to-day operations.. The company recently hired Robert Whitaker, to take over as CEO.

On Thursday, Whitaker testified in front of the joint Health and Human Services Committee in Gallup. The group of state legislators heard testimony on challenges facing rural health care providers and other health topics. Whitaker said the hospital is doing its best to recruit doctors and nurses to staff the labor and delivery unit and otherwise get the facility in good financial health. He said the hospital loses $10,000 per birth, according to calculations the hospital conducted of births this year. 

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“We understand that labor and delivery throughout the state and rural areas has many significant financial challenges. And it’s kind of caught up to us,” he said. “We are actively recruiting OB-GYN physicians. And it’s not easy.”

Whitaker faced no questions from lawmakers due to time constraints. 

A spokesperson for RMCH did not respond to a request for comment Friday on the activist group’s receivership proposal.

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Patrick Lohmann
Patrick Lohmann

Patrick Lohmann has been a reporter since 2007, when he wrote stories for $15 apiece at a now-defunct tabloid in Gallup, his hometown. Since then, he's worked at UNM's Daily Lobo, the Albuquerque Journal and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Along the way, he's won several state and national awards for his reporting, including for an exposé on a cult-like Alcoholics Anonymous group and a feature on an Upstate New York militia member who died of COVID-19. He's thrilled to be back home in New Mexico, where he works to tell stories that resonate and make an impact.