County appoints new Gila Regional trustees, talks Hurley standoff

Written by on July 26, 2019

Going against Gila Regional Medical Center’s own bylaws, Grant County commissioners on Thursday appointed James Marshall, Cynthia Moreno and Joel Schram as the new — and renewed, in the case of Schram — members of the GRMC board of trustees.

The hospital board’s bylaws suggest that two of the three new appointees to the board of trustees should have experience as health care providers and that trustees should be free from potential conflicts of interest.

Marshall is the assistant town manager for Silver City, and previously worked for nearly two decades at Gila Regional, rising through the ranks to head of the Emergency Medical Transport department. His was the only appointment without controversy. District 1 Commissioner Billy Billings remarked that Marshall — and Moreno — “wouldn’t be ‘yes’ people.”

Commissioners barely addressed a glaring potential conflict of interest in their appointment of nurse-midwife Cynthia Moreno to the board of trustees. Moreno — who gave an eloquent and apparently persuasive presentation during commission interviews of seven finalists at a special meeting July 18 — is currently employed at Gila Regional, making hospital CEO Taffy Arias her boss. With her appointment as a trustee, Moreno could be in a position to circumvent the usual chain of command. 

The board will almost surely need to change their bylaws, which now prohibit a hospital employee from becoming a trustee. Even after a change, Moreno would be faced with difficult decisions on when to recuse herself from decision-making, which could be so often as to be impractical. She has the potential — at least in appearance — to unduly influence matters that directly impact her own job, including HR policy, operational policy and financial matters.

District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards told the Daily Press that Moreno’s qualifications outweighed any potential problems that might arise from the conflict — even if that conflict removes Moreno from important decision-making. 

“I think it’s much more important to focus on what she brings to the table,” she said. “The commission isn’t bound by [Gila Regional board of trustees] bylaws, and Cindy can recuse herself from her [own] contract negotiations.”

To no one’s surprise, the third appointment was a drawn-out process. Edwards and District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne have vigorously opposed the reappointment of Joel Schram to the board. Thursday, they argued that Dr. Donald Stinar would be a suitable compromise if their fellow commissioners would not appoint the pair’s top choice, Dr. James Skee of Silver Health CARE.

“We could override the preference of the board of trustees to have two physicians,” Browne said. “We could override that — but the current configuration respects the board’s own bylaws.” 

The “current configuration” he was referring to consisted of three candidates that he moved to appoint: Moreno, Marshall and Skee, instead of Schram.

Browne and Edwards both voted in favor of that slate, but were overruled by District 4 Commissioner and Chairman Chris Ponce, Billings and District 2 Commissioner Javier Salas, who seemed bent on reappointing Schram. 

That decision was made despite Ponce’s admission that Schram — who by day is the chief market officer for First American Bank in Grant County — is perceived by some to be merely a “yes man” to past and present Gila Regional administrations. Browne specifically called Schram out for his actions during former CEO Brian Cunningham’s tenure.

“During Brian Cunningham’s tenure, I did not see him asking tough questions at all,” Browne said. “This was a period when the hospital was losing millions and needed to be asked tough questions.”

The current chairman of the hospital board, Tony Trujillo, was supportive of the appointments. 

“On behalf of the GRMC board of trustees, I want to congratulate and welcome the two new trustees that were appointed by the commissioners today,” Trujillo wrote in a statement. “We also appreciate that Trustee Joel Schram was reappointed. We thank the commissioners for their process and deliberations in selecting these trustees.”

During Thursday’s meeting, commissioners and members of the public addressed the near-ruin of North Hurley resident Betty Vick’s house in the aftermath of a police standoff that also left her son, 56-year-old Timmy Vick, dead of an apparent suicide. Both Edwards and Browne opined that there must be some middle ground between abandoning the scene and tearing apart a house. During the standoff on July 18 and 19, law enforcement sought suspect Timmy Vick in connection with a shots-fired 911 call. 

After police called in a New Mexico State Police Special Investigations Team, SWAT ultimately responded to an argument between neighbors that allegedly escalated to gunplay. The SWAT team nearly demolished the Vick home, and later found their suspect dead of an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. 

“Sitting up here on the dais, we have no idea what happened that day,” Edwards said. “But it is mind-boggling to me that we dismantled someone’s home.”

Salas commended police for their handling of what he called “a very deadly situation.”

Ponce, a former law enforcement officer, stated that he couldn’t say much without knowing more details. 

“I have faith that the people involved did the best job they could do,” he said. 

Billings was a bit harsher, saying, “If there is any lesson to be learned here, it is that when police ask you to comply — you should comply.”

Even Gila Regional CEO Arias aired her feelings on the matter, comparing the Vicks’ situation to the experience of being punished with a ticket for speeding. 

“I know that if I go through Bayard, the speed limit is 35 mph,” she said. “I know if I speed, I will get a ticket, I will be held accountable for my actions.” 

Ramon Terrazas, a lieutenant with the State Police, also spoke during public comment, asking officials to “withhold judgment until the investigation is complete.” Without being specific, Terrazas also told commissioners, “I don’t think the information in the [news]paper is accurate. Every day, officers put their lives on the line, and while not everything they do is perfect, their intention is to do their best.”

Sheriff Frank Gomez told commissioners that he looked forward to having a local “special response team” in Grant County, something he is currently working on in partnership with the Silver City Police Department. 

“It was a sad situation in all ways,” the sheriff said.

In other news, commissioners intend to discuss raises for some county employees during a special meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. July 29. The meeting is to approve the final 2019-20 county budget. Salas has advocated that the county hand out raises to all county employees at nearly every meeting of the commission in recent memory.

Commissioners also approved a resolution allowing the county to enter into negotiations with Las Cruces law firm Holt Mynatt Martinez for contract legal services. The firm would replace already-departed in-house staff attorney Abby Burgess, who resigned last month.

Geoffrey Plant may be reached at geoff@scdaily press.com.

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