In Gallup, surrounded by the Navajo Nation, a pandemic crosses paths with homelessness, hate and healers

GALLUP, N.M. — At the end of the Howard Johnson Hotel’s orange and white hallway, Dr. Caleb Lauber paused by a mirror as if he were lost. The mirror was an invention of the crafty security guards who’d leaned it against a chair, allowing them to quickly see around the corner in case any guests, all COVID-19 positive, should leave their rooms. Lauber worked 60, sometimes 80-hour weeks, caring for the homeless that Gallup had arranged to shelter at local hotels. He’d seen 500 of these patients in the past month. And now his memory was failing. “What’s the room number?” he asked his nursing assistant for the second time as they rounded the corner.  

This story originally appeared at Searchlight New Mexico and is republished here with permission.

As COVID-19 sweeps through the Navajo Nation, a hospital is accused of endangering lives

GALLUP – In the past two weeks, one COVID-19 patient died following what several staff physicians described as gross mismanagement by health care workers at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital. Another patient suffered severe brain damage when a ventilator was improperly adjusted, according to those same physicians. And the hospital’s critical care doctor, the only critical care physician in McKinley County, resigned, citing patient safety concerns. 

On May 5, an ad-hoc group of staff providers at the hospital, formally known as Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services, unanimously voted to submit a declaration of no confidence in Rehoboth CEO David Conejo. The group, which formed this spring to protest conditions, followed up with a warning letter to the hospital board. The letter charged Conejo with creating an unsafe working environment, failing to effectively communicate, promoting a lack of transparency and poor fiscal management. 

“The board members should understand that they are ultimately responsible for breaches in their fiduciary obligations to the hospital system by allowing the CEO to create unsafe working conditions,” the health care workers wrote.  

The staff accused Gallup’s second largest hospital of questionable leadership decision-making that led to severe staff shortages, a Searchlight New Mexico investigation found.

State to open COVID-19 alternative care facility in Gallup

As COVID-19 cases in McKinley County continue to skyrocket, the state announced that its alternative care facility in Gallup will accept its first patients on Saturday. The facility, in a converted high school gymnasium, will be able to handle 60 patients. As of the numbers on Thursday, the state has found 573 cases in McKinley County, the second-most in the state, only behind Bernalillo County which has nearly ten times the population of the largely rural western New Mexico county. According to the Albuquerque Journal, this translates to 777.86 infections per 100,000 residents. The Navajo Nation, which includes portions of McKinley County, is one of the hardest-hit parts of the country when it comes to COVID-19 infections.