SANTA FE – Leaders of a critical care hospital in the middle of a coronavirus hot spot in Gallup, New Mexico, are coming under mounting pressure to comply with a financial audit amid complaints of inadequate staffing, a state official said Wednesday.
State Auditor Brian Colón said he has given hospital operator Rehoboth McKineley Christian Health Care Services and CEO David Conejo a week to deliver additional financial documents to independent auditors. Colón said a special audit has been stymied by limited access to financial records, as confidence fades in management in the hospital funded in part by property taxes.
“It’s gone from a deeply concerning issue to a crisis that isn’t being overstated when we say that it’s a matter of life and death,” said Colón, who led a conference call Tuesday involving Conejo, officials from McKinley County and the hospital board of trustees.
Colón said his office is prepared to subpoena hospital records if met with resistance.
“It should never get to this point,” he said. “But first I have to educate them on the fact that they have to submit to the audit.”
Physicians and nurses at the hospital held a curbside protest last week and said staff were being overwhelmed after recent worker reductions, coronavirus infections among nurses, and a surge in patients suffering from COVID-19. They urged the CEO to resign.
The dismissal of about 17 contract nurses in March as the pandemic bore down on New Mexico has raised questions about management of the 60-bed county-owned hospital that is operated by an independent nonprofit company under a lease agreement.
Conejo said Wednesday the hospital is prepared to turn over more records including financial worksheets to independent auditors later this week. He defended his leadership during the health crisis he described as a “perfect storm.” He also said the hospital’s surgical staff and board of trustees agreed to the initial decision to reduce staff in March, and an incident command team of medical professionals guided later strategic decisions.