The University of New Mexico (UNM) Board of Regents staged a takeover of the university’s Health Science Center (HSC) and UNM hospital Monday.
The action effectively means the Health Sciences Center and UNM Hospital lose a layer of governance. Before Monday’s changes, a Board of Directors whose membership included two community members and the UNM Board of Regents governed the Health Sciences Center.
The Board of Directors — whose membership included five regents and two community members — was eliminated. In the past it had shown a certain amount of independence because a community member could raise alarm to force a controversial idea into the open.
Last month, an HSC director publicly accused Gov. Susana Martinez’s administration of politically interfering to block the development of a new facility to replace the university’s ’outmoded’ hospital.
Now the UNM Board of Regents become the sole arbiter of affairs at the HSC, which left some questioning what it meant in increased interference from Santa Fe. The governor appoints university regents after their terms end or after they resign.
The swiftness of the takeover left many questioning Monday where the plan came from and what its ultimate goal is.
The fast-moving plan – which became public Friday of last week and caught staff and at least two of six UNM regents unaware – effectively undoes a Health Science Center governing structure put into place earlier this decade after a two-year deliberative process.
That endeavor included engaging “a national health care consulting firm to help identify and implement industry best practices to ensure transparency and establish clear lines of authority for an academic health center within a public university,” HSC Chancellor Dr. Paul Roth said in a statement prior to Monday’s vote by the regents.
The changes UNM Regents approved Monday took nowhere near as long as two years to achieve reality.
Elsa Cole, the university’s general counsel, said during questioning by regent Bradley C. Hosmer she first saw the concept for the proposed changes “10 days ago.” Regent Robert M. Doughty confirmed Monday it was he who approached Cole.
As a result, hospital and Health Science Center staff never got the chance to see the plans or provide input. Neither did two of the six University of New Mexico regents who found out about the plan Thursday, which made the plan appear as a closely guarded secret among a select few, including regents Doughty, Jack Fortner and Marron Lee.
Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Doughty and Lee to the Board of Regents in recent years.
The four regents voting to eliminate the HSC Board of Directors were Doughty, Lee, Fortner and student Regent Ryan Berryman. They all served on the HSC Board of Directors, according to the HSC’s webpage.
Doughty said the changes approved Monday aren’t as far-reaching as critics believe.
“We’re taking it back to the way it was before,” Doughty said after the meeting. “It’s nothing new. I think this is the right move.”
That’s not what dozens of speakers thought Monday as they commented on the proposed plan — many of them opposing the proposed changes or requesting a postponement of a vote.
Faculty of UNM’s School of Medicine, the Health Science Center, the center’s Faculty Senate also submitted letters asking regents to postpone the vote.
Doughty said the Board of Regents had heard enough discussion to have properly vetted the proposed changes with the public, given the three hours of comments from the public and a few minutes of discussion among the regents.
Regents Bradley C. Hosmer and Suzanne Quillen disagreed, however.
Hosmer told his fellow regents that they should approach “big, complex situations with questions, not solutions” and the proposed changes appeared to be a solution to a problem he didn’t understand.
Quillen, a decades-long veteran of the health care profession, said “this is one of the most revolutionary periods in health care.” And Monday’s action made her “feel we’re really taking a step backwards,” she said. “I believe it’s dangerous thinking.”
Doughty has framed the proposed changes as a way to save money. But he acknowledged after the meeting Monday no research on potential cost-savings had been worked out before presenting the proposed changes and asking the Board of Regents to approve them
Doughty said he would appoint another group to look for duplicative services between UNM and Health Sciences Center.