University of New Mexico Regents voted 4-2 to change governance structure of how the university’s Health Sciences Center is run.
The changes will effectively strip the HSC board of two voting community members. The HSC board of directors, which includes the two community members and five sitting regents, currently brings policies to the regents for approval.
The change will make the new entity a subcommittee made up of three Board of Regents.
NM Political Report first reported news of the proposed change last Friday. Critics say it would put UNM Hospital, which along with the medical school, nursing school and cancer center is run by the HSC, more directly under the control of political appointees.
Roughly 50 people urged the UNM Regents to delay the vote or reject the proposal in total during public comment that lasted three hours.
UNM Regents made the vote more than two hours after public comment ended after going through other items on the agenda. Regents Robert Doughty, Marron Lee, Jack Fortner and student Regent Ryan Berryman voted in favor of the changes. Regents Suzanne Quillen and Bradley Hosmer dissented.
“As I look at the proposal, I’m still wondering what the problem is that we’re trying to solve,” Hosmer said.
Quillen criticized the changes as “restricting input” during “one of the most revolutionary times in health care” and taking HSC “out of the mainstream with other academic health centers.” She also emphasized that the current HSC governing structure isn’t autonomous to the Regents.
“I feel we are taking a step backwards to limit our input from anybody in the community, especially our students, faculty and staff,” Quillen said. “I really do think this is dangerous thinking and I’m sorry we’re here.”
But Doughty, who co-wrote the proposal with Lee, defended the move as streamlining university governance at a time when UNM is facing a nearly $8 million in loss in state funding.
During the meeting, Regents in support of the changes spoke of how they’d streamline HSC governance with UNM. No analysis, however, has yet been made on whether and how the new way of governance will actually save money.
After the meeting, Doughty told reporters that as the new Regent president he would appoint a committee “to look at what are the duplicative services that are going on in areas that we can save money” between HSC and UNM.
“My goal here is to bring [HSC and UNM] back to one institution where there isn’t a conflict of interest with anybody that sits on the [HSC] board that are non-regent,” Doughty said.
Doughty alluded to statements one of the HSC board’s current community members, Mel Eaves, made last month during a meeting where he called the UNM hospital the “crown jewel” of UNM.
Doughty said the hospital is rather “one of several crown jewels” and that Eaves’ statement showed bias.
Ten days vs. two years
Doughty also told reporters he publicly spoke about his concern that HSC had become too independent of UNM at regent meetings in the past. But he said actual planning of the governance changes came about 10 days ago.
Doughty said he spoke about the planned changes with two former Regents Gene Gallegos and Jamie Koch as well as current Regents Forner and Lee, UNM President Bob Frank and HSC Chancellor Paul Roth.
When asked why he didn’t also speak with Quillen and Hosmer before the proposal was posted online last Friday, Doughty said he “felt that would violate the Open Meetings Act.”
“I’m an attorney,” he said.
Doughty emphasized that the changes are taking HSC governance “back to where it was before.”
Though Doughty said he spoke to Roth of the changes, it apparently wasn’t enough to convince Roth to endorse them.
“I am disappointed that the Health Sciences Center leadership, the university faculty and the students and staff did not have time or the opportunity to provide input into the policy changes that were adopted today,” Roth said in a prepared statement after the vote.
The changes cedes Roth’s authority from decisions such as making additional appointments to schools and colleges within HSC to the UNM president, among others.
At the start of the meeting, Roth made comments defending the HSC board’s current structure that drew a standing ovation from attendees.
He emphasized that recommendations for the current governance structure came in 2010 after a two-year research process that included interviewing heads from two dozen institutions “to gain a consensus regarding the best way to manage a public institution of this size and complexity.”
Roth also praised the HSC board’s two community members for giving “valuable input over the years.” He called the proposed changes “far-reaching” and representing “a retreat to pre-21st Century academic medicine.”
“I believe these policy changes could dramatically undermine our success going forward,” the Chancellor said. “And when Regent Doughty stated yesterday that the reason immediate action is required is to help with the budget crunch, the real reason for the changes became obvious—to move scarce resources from the HSC to cover the deficits on Main Campus.”
Several Health Sciences Center students and staffers spoke in opposition during public comment. Kyle Leggott, a fourth-year medical student, read a statement about to regents that he said received 415 student electronic signatures over the weekend.
“Students were made aware of these issues on March 11, on the eve of spring break for many UNM HSC students,” Leggott said. “We have numerous questions and concerns regarding how these actions may alter our future endeavors as students, scientists, and healthcare providers for the state of New Mexico. We feel that matters of this magnitude necessitate transparency and collaboration.”
Multiple lawmakers also urged a delay in vote, both Democrats and Republicans.
State Senate Majority Whip Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, told regents that if they “turn around” and “make a political decision” in opposition to public outcry, HSC would in the future have trouble attracting new talent.
“The current governance as the way you manage the hospital right now makes sense,” Padilla told regents. “I ask you to not do this.”
State Reps. Sarah Maestas Barnes and Conrad James, both Republicans from Albuquerque, and Javier Martinez and Patricia Roybal Caballero, both Democrats from Albuquerque, also each urged a delay in the vote.
“What I have seen on both sides of this issue is the system in place works,” James, a former UNM Regent, said.
Bernalillo County Commissioner Maggie Hart Stebbins and Acoma Pueblo Gov. Kurt Riley made similar remarks. Riley spoke of how the University of New Mexico hospital started out as an Indian hospital.
“Anything that impacts management of hospital, the 19 pueblo governors have an interest in,” Riley said.
Eaves has also blamed motivation for the changes on opposition to the building of a new UNM adult hospital coming from Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration. As governor, Martinez appoints UNM regents.
During public comment, Eaves stated that any regent vote on the HSC board governance change would violate the state law which requires public bodies to give 72-hour public notice of such an action.
Although the item was posted online Friday morning, Eaves told regents “you did not include the Daylight Savings Time.”
Indeed, Sunday saw loss of one hour when New Mexico changed clocks for Daylight Savings Time.
Susan Boe, executive director of the New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, agreed that it could be a “technical violation” but feels it would fall under the concept of “substantial compliance.”
“Technically it should be, but I just don’t think that’s one that a judge or the AG’s office would excited about,” Boe said on Monday afternoon.