March 11, 2016

UNM regents to attempt takeover of hospital oversight

University of New Mexico’s Board of Regents will next week consider dissolving the board that governs its Health Sciences Center in what will likely be a contentious hearing.

unm hospital logoUpdate: On Monday, the Board of Regents voted 4-2 to proceed with the takeover. The story continues as originally written below.

Currently, the Health Sciences Center (HSC), which includes University of New Mexico Hospital, the state’s largest hospital, is governed by a board of directors separate from the university’s Board of Regents. Previously, the Health Sciences Center was governed by a committee of the Board of Regents.

The proposal also adds the “executive vice president” title to the HSC Chancellor and subjects much of that position’s authority to the UNM president. The university president must, for example, approve any of the HSC Chancellor’s additional appointments to schools and colleges within HSC, which includes the medical school.

Mel Eaves, an Albuquerque attorney, sat on that committee and is now a member of the HSC Board of Directors.

“Because the Health Sciences Center has grown so large—double the size of the university—it was taking so much time for the regents to govern,” Eaves said in an interview. “It was just a really ineffective way to govern at the time.”

On Monday, the Board of Regents will consider a proposal to dissolve the HSC board and return its governance to a committee of the Regents.

Eaves calls this “a horrible idea” and says it’s motivated by opposition to building a new University hospital from the governor’s office.

“This is all in reaction to myself and [HSC board members] Debbie Johnson and Anne Rhoades, we’ve all expressed strong support for the hospital,” Eaves said. “They’re wanting to get rid of us. They don’t want any dissenting voices.”

“This is all part of a plan,” he continued. “I think they want to get rid of HSC leadership.”

Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration has blocked attempts to build the new hospital in the past. Lovelace Health System, a campaign contributor to Martinez, has also strongly opposed the new hospital.

Eaves is one of two HSC Board members from the public appointed by the Board of Regents. The remaining five sit on the Board of Regents. The governor appoints UNM Regents, who are confirmed by the state Senate.

The proposal to dissolve the board comes from HSC Board Chair Rob Doughty and Vice Chair Marron Lee, both of whom are also regents.

Eaves said their proposal to dissolve the HSC board “has been done to this point in secret.”

“It has not been shared with members of the board,” he said.

NM Political Report reached out to Doughty, Lee and a spokesman for the governor. We will update this post if they respond.

State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, criticized the proposal as a “flagrant power grab” and an “intrusion into the governance and decision-making of an important public institution.”

“The UNM Health Sciences Center is one of the important institutions for the public health and well-being of New Mexicans,” Sanchez said in a prepared statement. “It must be protected from the outrageous abuse of power on display by the UNM Regents today.”

Senate Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, also called it “upsetting” that Regent members planning the takeover haven’t publicly explained a “justification” to challenge the authority of HSC Chancellor Paul Roth.

“The HSC board was appointed less than five years ago and has worked as intended,” Papen said in a statement. “I am not aware of any valid reason to reverse course on this important institution.”