Gallup hospital org names new CEO, a first step to avoid being kicked out

By: - March 23, 2022 11:06 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)

The nonprofit running a major Gallup medical center has named a new chief executive officer to lead the troubled hospital.

Robert Whitaker, currently the president and CEO of Southwest Medical Center in Liberal, Kansas, will take over at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital. The Gallup hospital is the biggest in the region, apart from one run by the Indian Health Service, and it serves patients in a 120-mile radius. 

In recent months, a group of activists, ex-employees and patients have grown frustrated with the hospital’s direction and the private company contracted to run it, Community Health Consulting.

They have accused the company and the former interim CEO, Don Smithburg, of driving out respected, longtime employees and reducing the quality of healthcare in the area. Smithburg cited the pandemic’s toll and nursing shortage as the hospital’s biggest challenges.

Recently, the McKinley County Commission got involved.  It leases the hospital and land to Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, which runs the hospital. Last week, commissioners voted to terminate the lease unless the nonprofit organization met a series of demands over the next six months.

Amid outcry, county threatens to kick out org running Gallup hospital

One of those demands was to get a new permanent CEO by April 15. Others include improving communication and transparency between the hospital’s board of trustees and the community.

McKinley County Commission chair Billy Moore said he is pleased with Whitaker’s hiring, which has been in the works for months, he said. 

“Seemed a real nice guy,” Moore said. “I guess we’ll wait and see.”

Whitaker’s top priority will be to help the organization get into better financial shape, according to a news release. The hospital and its associated clinics reportedly have a deficit of $9.4 million. 

Community Hospital Consulting also recently brought in a new chief financial officer to the hospital. 

The Community Health Action Group, which is leading the charge against Community Hospital Consulting, has continued its weekly protests. A spokesperson said the group did not immediately have a comment about Whitaker’s hiring.

Whitaker was hired as the CEO of Southwest Medical Center in 2020. He also served as the the chief operating officer between 2015 and 2016. 

One concern community members had about Smithburg, the former CEO, was that he split his time between Gallup and Kansas City, Missouri. In addition to his role in Gallup, Smithburg is  also a senior vice president for Community Health Corporation.

Rhonda Ray, a spokesperson for Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services said Whitaker will live full-time in Gallup. 

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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.