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Opposition grows on HSC oversight change

Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal

Over the weekend, two University of New Mexico regents and several of the school’s faculty organizations came out against the sudden introduction of a regent plan that would restructure the governing board of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, and they expressed concerns about measures that would bring the HSC chancellor more clearly under the authority of the president.

Regents Lt. Gen. Brad Hosmer and Suzanne Quillen criticized the abruptness of the plan introduced by fellow regents Rob Doughty and Marron Lee and defended the current model.

“The fact the proposed changes have been kept concealed, unveiled only at the last moment is, in my view, testimony that they cannot be defended on their merits, a strong reason to prevent such changes from taking place,” Hosmer said in a letter sent to the Journal.

Doughty on Sunday defended the proposals, saying immediate action is needed due to UNM’s looming budget crunch.

The changes have not been discussed by UNM regents in an open meeting and were made public for the first time when posted Friday on the university’s website along with the agenda for today’s regents meeting. The changes are listed as “action” on today’s agenda, meaning regents could vote on them today.

The Health Sciences Center, which includes University of New Mexico Hospital, the medical school, the school of nursing and the cancer center, is now governed by a seven-member board that includes five regents, two community members appointed by the regents’ president and the chairman of the UNM Hospital Board of trustees, who is a non-voting member. The board’s actions must go before the Board of Regents for approval.

The new policy would replace the HSC board with a committee made up of three regents.

Doughty said the changes would allow for streamlined management of HSC and prevent conflicts of interest from board members who may only be considering the well-being of the HSC and not the main campus as a whole. Doughty sits on the current HSC board along with Lee, regent president Jack Fortner and student regent Ryan Berryman.

Hosmer wrote the proposed changes would be a step backward, and that he was never informed of the potential alterations.

Regent Suzanne Quillen also released a letter questioning why the proposed changes were “presented abruptly, in a unilateral manner, by only two regents.”

“What problems are we trying to solve with these abrupt proposed changes,” she asked, adding that they have not been discussed with the chancellor, Paul Roth, who is the top executive at HSC, or with the faculty, staff or even several other regents.

She said she supported the current structure because it allowed for more community input.

No prior discussion

The Journal reported the proposed changes in a story published Saturday. Since then, faculty, community members and state lawmakers have raised criticisms about the plan.

Cheryl Willman, director of the UNM Cancer Center, said she opposes some of the potential changes and is willing to discuss others. Willman, who was recently honored by the Board of Regents, said she was also concerned about the suddenness of the announcement.

“None of us understand their concerns because we haven’t discussed them,” Willman told the Journal on Sunday.

She also said a policy revision that would remove the chancellor as the chief executive officer of the hospital raised “grave concerns.”

She added that the CEO of the hospital should be a physician and someone familiar with the complexity of a large medical system. She said she would have the same concerns regardless of the qualifications of the UNM president, even if Roth were UNM president, a position he held briefly when the sitting president was ill.

However, UNM President Bob Frank sent a memo to Roth on Sunday that said if the proposed changes to the policies are “passed as drafted during tomorrow’s Regent meeting, I will immediately appoint you to serve as Chief Executive Officer of the UNM Health System.”

Roth declined to comment directly for Sunday’s story, instead referring to an internal memo sent to HSC employees Friday. “While we all have concerns about what these proposed changes may mean, and were not offered the opportunity for input into these changes, they will not and must not impair our commitment to providing for the health and well-being of the thousands of New Mexicans we serve every year nor have a negative impact on our excellent educational and research programs,” Roth wrote in the memo. “We will make the best of whatever transpires on Monday.”

Willman and others said they expect a large and vocal contingent to speak at today’s meeting in protest of the proposed changes.

Doughty on Sunday said immediate action to streamline the university’s operations is necessary to deal with the impending financial crunch and as the regents plan for next year’s budget. During this year’s legislative session, UNM was allocated about $8 million less for the next budget.

“This is something I have wanted to do, and I thought this was the best time to do it given we’re all focused on the budgetary issues at UNM,” Doughty said. “Now is the time that we desperately need to look immediately into maximizing efficiencies at the university.”

The UNM Faculty Senate and the Health Sciences Center Council, which is an advisory board to the faculty senate, issued statements over the weekend expressing skepticism about the plan.

“This combination of haste, nondisclosure, and disregard for history seems at best rash, and at worst, deceptive and disrespectful of the Regents, the public, faculty governance, and all of the committed staff, clinicians, and faculty who have worked so hard to support New Mexicans’ opportunities to avail themselves of professional education, as well as the vital health care mission of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center,” wrote Lee Brown, the chair of the HSC Council.

UNM president’s view

Frank said the measures would tighten relations between the main campus and the HSC. In 2013, when the board consisted of four community members and three regents, Frank said such a structure made it difficult for him to manage the university. The structure was subsequently changed to the current form, with the majority being regents.

On Sunday, Frank said the new changes would further increase the accountability of the HSC to the main campus. But he stopped short of saying he supported or disapproved of the proposed measures.

“The changes they’re proposing would allow the kind of efficiencies I talked about in 2013, which I think would benefit the university in this extremely challenging fiscal time.” Frank said. “That said, these are regents’ initiatives. I didn’t propose it and I haven’t written the rules, they have done all of that.”

Senate Democratic leaders and the Albuquerque branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People also released comments raising concerns about the plan.

Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, called the changes a “power grab” and said they could undermine the body’s “freedom to operate without outside political pressure.” In the same statement, Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, also questioned the rush to action.

The NAACP statement said the proposed changes to the HSC board could damage the relationship between UNM, the Health Sciences Center and the community itself.

The statement, signed by Albuquerque NAACP president Harold Bailey, said the changes “appeared to be a brazen attack on Chancellor Roth.”

It called for Roth and Frank to meet and come up with a proposal to present to the regents.

The board of regents currently has six members, with one vacancy, all of whom are appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez. In addition to Doughty, Lee, Hosmer and Quillen, Regent president Jack Fortner, a Farmington lawyer, and student regent Ryan Berryman sit on the board.

Fortner, Doughty, Lee and Berryman are the regents who sit on the HSC board.

The regents meet at 9:30 a.m. today in the UNM student union building.