CEO won't have to go to meetings

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By David Giuliani

The administrator for Alta Vista Regional Hospital won’t have to keep showing up at every monthly meeting of the San Miguel County Commission.

In November, the county had started requiring Grogan or some other top hospital official to attend meetings, so someone would be available to answer questions about indigent payments to Alta Vista.

Alta Vista gets regular payments from the county for providing health care to the poorest residents. Counties all around do the same for their respective hospitals.

The main reason the county asked Grogan or some other top official to start appearing was that that commissioners wanted to ask questions about Alta Vista’s refusal to negotiate with a union that an overwhelming majority of employees voted in nearly three years ago.

Grogan, who had remained publicly mum about the union for more than a year, told the commission in December that the hospital is waiting for a court ruling on whether the National Labor Relations Board, which certified the union, was legally constituted at the time it made its decision.

He noted that the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., had decided that NLRB decisions since January 2008 weren’t valid because the board lacked the necessary quorum of three active members.

He said the Supreme Court is expected to rule on the matter during the summer, which will guide Alta Vista’s next step.

The hospital’s stance has riled some residents, who have held rallies around town and in front of the hospital. However, Grogan argues that working conditions have improved at Alta Vista since he took the helm in early 2008.

At this week’s commission meeting, Grogan said nothing had changed about the hospital’s position toward the union. He said he learned that there had been some internal disputes within the NLRB  regarding the validity of its decisions.

Commissioner Nicolas Leger, who has led the questioning of the hospital, said he had checked with experts in both management and labor and that it seemed as if the hospital’s statements correctly reflected the legal situation.

But he said he had also been told by experts that the hospital’s refusal to negotiate was a typical “delaying tactic.” He said it appeared as if Alta Vista, owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems Inc., didn’t want to deal with a “legitimate” union.

Grogan didn’t address Leger’s allegation that Alta Vista was using delaying tactics. But he told the commission that by federal government standards, Alta Vista was well ahead of state and national norms in core medical areas. He also said the hospital was one of only three in northeastern New Mexico that had received Joint Commission accreditation.

Grogan asked if he would need to keep coming to meetings. The commissioners said he wouldn’t necessarily but that they would give him notice if he would. But they did request some hospital employee be present should they have questions about indigent payments.

“It may be good to keep the lines of communication open,” Leger said.

“We’re happy to do that,” Grogan replied.