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Editorial: Why the rush to change Health Sciences oversight?

There are times when it is important – even a matter of life and death – to rush. Like when someone has a stroke. Or a heart attack.

But changing the governance of a multimillion-dollar publicly funded health care institution that is a key part of New Mexico’s flagship university? That would seem to call for thoughtful deliberation and due diligence rather than urgency.

On Friday, UNM posted today’s Board of Regents agenda along with numerous documents outlining proposed changes aimed at tighter control of Health Sciences. One of those documents was a letter from regents Rob Doughty and Marron Lee to the rest of the board proposing to replace the seven-member board that oversees the UNM Health Sciences Center – including University of New Mexico Hospital, the medical school, the school of nursing and the cancer center – with a three-member regent subcommittee.

The proposal would also more clearly bring the Health Sciences chancellor under the authority of the UNM president.

“The elimination of the separate board will result in a reporting hierarchy that is under the leadership of the University President and remove any conflict of interest in the management of the University as a whole,” Doughty and Lee said in their letter.

The changes are likely to cause considerable angst on the HSC side of the campus, with the argument that Health Sciences needs flexibility to maneuver in the complex and fast-changing world of health care.

It was for that reason that an earlier board went the opposite direction from the current proposal – too far – in creating an HSC board in which regents were the voting minority. That change was subsequently rolled back to the current alignment with five regents, two community members appointed by the Board of Regents president and a non-voting representative of the UNMH Board of Trustees.

In that sense, some of the proposed changes aren’t that dramatic. As HSC spokesman Billy Sparks points out, the voting members of the existing HSC board are already regents or regent appointees. And HSC board actions are subject to approval by the full Board of Regents.

Doughty and Lee are already members of the HSC board, and Doughty is chairman.

And the regents are charged with the governance of the university, including HSC. The two are tied financially. So an argument can be made that streamlining the chain of command and governance facilitates accountability.

Other proposed policy changes on today’s agenda would require the HSC chancellor to get the university president’s approval to appoint deans or administrative officers or hire outside legal counsel or approve legal actions. And they would have the UNM president and regents more involved in setting HSC’s goals.

Those proposals dealing with the dynamics of running the enterprise on a daily basis involve real people running huge enterprises – HSC Chancellor Paul Roth and UNM President Bob Frank.

But even if streamlining governance along the lines proposed has merit, this proposal hasn’t even been discussed by UNM regents in an open meeting. If it has been discussed privately by a quorum of the board, that would be a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act. One regent has asked that it be pulled from the agenda.

So rather than vote on these policy changes – they are scheduled as an action item for today’s meeting – a better prescription would be for regents to take a breath and ensure there is sufficient time and opportunity for discussion and deliberation.

This is one where they need to get it right.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.