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Is The Overhaul Of UNM's Health Sciences Center A Money Thing?

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The University of New Mexico Board of Regents recently made changes to how UNM’s Health Sciences Center is governed. UNM Hospital, UNM Medical School, UNM College of Nursing – these are all part of the Health Sciences Center.

NMPoliticalReport’s Joey Peters has been reporting on this story. He spoke with KUNM’s Elaine Baumgartel.

KUNM: The UNM Health Sciences Center had been overseen by a seven member Board of Directors which included community members and members of the UNM Board of Regents. What does the new governance structure look like?

Peters: The new governance structure is just a three-person committee made up of regents.

KUNM: So, just the regents on the board now, the community members, they’re out?

Peters: It’s the community members that were eliminated. And it should be stressed that under the old governance, the Board of Directors would report to the regents and the regents would still have authority. 

KUNM: So what are the regents who supported this governance change, what are they saying about why the change has to be made?

Peters: They’re saying that HSC has become too independent from UNM as a whole and that this was an attempt to basically bring HSC back into the mission of the University.

KUNM: And you say bring it back because in essence, this new governance structure was how it was five years ago before the larger Board of Directors was created with the community members, right?

Peters: Yes.

KUNM: Are they saying that things were better how they were before?

Peters: I don’t know if they are completely saying that, but we do know that the structure that was eliminated was the result of a two-year process. The concern back then was that HSC was becoming too big itself to be governed by just a committee of regents.

KUNM: There was a lot of criticism at the time. What were some of the reasons that folks were saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want to see this happen.’ There was public meeting, people spoke out against it. What did we hear?

Peters: To many people, it was a secretive process. The changes weren’t posted until the Friday before the Monday meeting, which I believe technically complies with the Open Meetings Act. But for such drastic changes, nobody seemed to know that this was coming. It also came on a Spring Break week.

KUNM: What kinds of decisions do the people who oversee the Health Sciences Center make?

Peters: Well, one of the things that they’ve been looking at for a long time now is building a new hospital. They would be the first body that would have to approve how it is designed, how the money is spent. And then they’d report to the regents who then make the decision.

KUNM: And yet, some folks are saying ‘Hey, there are some people who don’t want that hospital.’ What’s that all about?

Peters: The HSC Board of Directors and the regents approved a build-out of a new hospital. The state Board of Finance was the final body that had to approve it. They didn’t vote on it. The Governor sits on that board and she was taking contributions from Lovelace, which was publicly opposed to the hospital at the time. Many have made the connection there.

Currently, the HSC has about $220 million in reserves of its own money earmarked for this hospital. Right now, state government is in a hole. Medicaid is in a big shortfall. And in early February, the Human Services Department met with HSC leaders and asked for $50 million.

KUNM: This is to fill a Medicaid budget shortfall, there’s like $80 million that they’re short. They’re asking the hospital.

Peters: Yeah, and they did it behind closed doors. Paul Roth and some of the other HSC leaders told them that they have several governance bodies they have to go through, including the HSC Board of Directors, in order for them to get that money. HSD then dropped its request. What we know is, a couple of days after that meeting, Regents Rob Doughtyand Marron Lee started looking into the changes. 

Elaine Baumgartel was KUNM's News Director from 2013 to 2019. She was local Morning Edition host from 2007 through 2012 and she regularly hosted the station's live news and public affairs show for some years. Elaine originally came on board at KUNM as a volunteer and student employee in 2003.
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