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Senate confirms 2 UNM regents

The state Senate confirmed two members appointed to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents in Santa Fe on Monday morning as some lawmakers used the hearing to call for a new University of New Mexico hospital.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, shared a letter written by Cheryl L. Willman, director of the UNM Cancer Center, that a paints a picture of a cramped hospital whose emergency room is usually full.

Willman shared a story of how Dillie Martinez, 74, suffered a medical episode in Taos in late 2015 that couldn’t be treated at the local hospital. But UNMH couldn’t immediately admit her and she died while awaiting care in Taos.

“Would Dillie Martinez have survived if she had been transferred to UNMH early in the day, as her physicians in Taos requested?” Willman wrote. “We will never know. She never got the chance.”

Cervantes was one of several senators who used the appointment of regents Ryan Berryman and Marron Lee as an opportunity to raise concerns about UNMH, the only Level 1 trauma center in the state and one many rural communities statewide rely on for immediate emergency care. The university is pushing for a new $600 million hospital that would essentially replace the current hospital and expand its emergency care offerings, university officials said.

Both Berryman and Lee serve on the Health Sciences Center Board of Directors, which oversees the hospital and makes suggestions on its behalf to the Board of Regents. The full Board of Regents would have to approve or deny a plan to hire an architect to begin the planning phases of the hospital.

Senators also said they hoped Lee would resist outside political influences and follow her conscience in making decisions about the university’s future.

Earlier in the day, the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Sen. Linda M. Lopez, D-Albuquerque, voted to approve Berryman and Lee as UNM regents. The rules committee voted unanimously to approve Berryman’s two-year term as student regent, while only Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Lopez voted against Lee’s six-year term. The remaining members of the 11-person committee voted to approve Lee, a former assistant U.S. attorney and legislative assistant to former Sen. Pete V. Domenici. Lopez and Sanchez voted against Lee in the full Senate hearing.

Berryman and Lee have been working as regents, thanks to something called a recess appointment. It grants them the full abilities of regents pending Senate confirmation.

Gov. Susana Martinez appointed Lee in April and Berryman in June.

In the 2015 legislative session, the Senate voted against approving regent appointee Matt Chandler, a former prosecutor. Martinez’s administration called the move at the time “despicable politics at its worst,” while opponents of Chandler questioned his ties to a Republican-leaning political action committee.

The Senate’s vote prompted former regent Jamie Koch to leave his position as a regent in protest. Martinez asked him to stay, which he did until announcing his retirement in December. The governor hasn’t appointed anyone to take his place. The Board of Regents is scheduled to have its first meeting of the year on Thursday.