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UNM names new hospital CEO

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Kate Becker has been named the new CEO of University of New Mexico Hospitals. (Courtesy of the University of New Mexico)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The state’s only Level 1 trauma center and academic medical center has identified its next leader.

University of New Mexico on Tuesday named Kate Becker, a lawyer-turned-hospital administrator, new CEO of UNM Hospitals. She is currently president of SSM Health St. Louis University Hospital, an academic hospital and Level 1 trauma center serving eastern Missouri and southern Illinois.

Becker, who starts July 15, replaces Steve McKernan, who retired last fall after 21 years in the role. She will earn $620,000 annually and can make up to 25 percent more in incentive pay.

A St. Louis native who spent the past 15 years working in her hometown, Becker said she had a family connection to Albuquerque and professional interest in UNM. Her grandparents lived in and ran a pharmacy in Albuquerque, so she spent many family vacations and holidays in the city. But she said she also has an affinity for the three-pronged mission of academic medicine — clinical care, education and research — and was particularly attracted to the structure at UNM. The hospitals and the UNM Medical Group operate under the overall leadership of Dr. Paul Roth, UNM Health Sciences Center chancellor, which Becker said can foster better coordination.

“There’s a lot of tendency in health care toward what they say are silos, or separate entities, and we give better care and we work better when we are working together across those departments or divisions,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

UNMH is a $1.1 billion annual enterprise with about 7,000 employees. It accounts for more than one-third of UNM’s total budget.

Before taking over at SLU Hospital in 2015, Becker was interim president of SLU’s pediatric teaching hospital. She has a master’s degree in public health from SLU and a law degree from Chicago-Kent College of Law. Prior to hospital administration, she represented doctors and hospitals in professional liability cases.

Becker’s “extensive experience and record of success in leading a large health care organization will be invaluable for us in delivering on our mission to promote the health and well-being of New Mexicans,” Roth said in a written statement.

Becker starts at UNM amid an effort to address the hospital’s chronic capacity challenges, one administrators hope to cure with a new facility. UNM is picking an architect to design a 120-bed modern medical facility on UNM-owned land north of Lomas near University. But Roth recently said he’d like the firm to also consider some cheaper ways to increase space.

While familiar with UNM’s capacity shortage — which she said is common among academic medical centers that see their community’s most complex patients — Becker said she isn’t yet prepared to name the perfect solution.

“I certainly at this point do not know enough to understand what the best next steps are, but clearly it is a challenge that we will all be looking at and trying to figure out,” she said.

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