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Fallout over change to HSC structure continues

There is no sign the political wrangling will end anytime soon over a vote by a majority of University of New Mexico regents to change the governing structure of the Health Sciences Center.

Top Senate Democrats, in an op-ed published in today’s Albuquerque Journal, accuse the four regents who voted for the restructuring of jeopardizing the future of the UNM Hospital and medical programs.

“As state senators, we are disgusted and embarrassed by the disrespect they have shown to the public and to the UNM HSC leadership,” Senate President Pro Tem Mary Kay Papen, D-Las Cruces, Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, and Majority Whip, Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, wrote in the op-ed.

“This move has demoralized many UNM employees, who are left to speculate about the possible motives for this sudden move and what it will mean for them.”

The Health Sciences Center had been overseen by a seven-member board that consisted of five regents and two community members. That governing structure was replaced by three regents, and Health Sciences Chancellor Paul Roth was brought more directly under the authority of UNM President Bob Frank.

The changes – announced in a meeting agenda on a Friday and voted on the following Monday in a meeting with hundreds attending – drew protests from employees and students, as well as state and local lawmakers. They said the suddenness of the decision and the lack of communication prior to the restructuring was a cause for concern.

Regents Rob Doughty, Jack Fortner, Marron Lee and student regent Ryan Berryman voted for the change. Regents Brad Hosmer and Suzanne Quillen voted against it. All are appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez.

An op-ed published in the Journal on April 7 by Doughty, Fortner and Lee defended the move and said it was needed to unify the university during difficult financial times.

The Senate Democrats called that reasoning inaccurate, given that the HSC was “always a proud part of UNM.”

The Senate Democrats’ letter also said the HSC and health care industry change too quickly for the regents to oversee the board effectively, hence the reason for the separate board of directors in the first place.

Doughty reiterated the majority’s reasons in a statement to the Journal on Thursday.

“The subsequent opinions expressed in the media are an effort to draw UNM regents into partisan politics and have not furthered a productive dialogue,” he said. “I will reiterate that UNM’s principal strength lies in being a unified institution and not divided, as some have suggested.”

Meanwhile, student regent Berryman authored an op-ed published in the Daily Lobo on Tuesday defending his decision to vote in favor of the restructuring. In that column, Berryman said the regents’ actions were motivated by “necessity” and not “political theater.” He also said financial concerns, including an $8 million shortfall this year and the HSC plans to build a new hospital, influenced his decision.

“This reintegration allows for all of the assets of the University to be leveraged for financing, while also considering all existing systemic liabilities,” Berryman said. “A project with an estimated minimum cost of $600 million requires the entire University to work together with due diligence.”