Hospital payment delayed

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By David Giuliani

No show, no money.

That was the County Commission’s position this week when it rejected Alta Vista Regional Hospital’s request for nearly $42,000 in indigent funds.

In November, the county started requesting that representatives from both Alta Vista and Santa Fe’s Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center appear before the commission to get their portion of county indigent funds.

Such money helps the hospitals cover the costs of people too poor to pay for health care.

In the past, the county routinely approved monthly requests for indigent funds without any questions or any requirements for hospital officials to appear.

But in November, County Commissioner Nicolas Leger said he wanted Alta Vista officials to come before the commission so that members could ask about why the hospital had refused to negotiate with a union voted in more than two years ago.

So Alta Vista CEO Richard Grogan appeared at last month’s commission meeting to defend the hospital’s stance toward the union. He said Alta Vista, owned by Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, is waiting for a Supreme Court ruling on the validity of decisions by the National Labor Relations Board during the time the agency certified the hospital union.

If the hospital were to negotiate now with the union, it would lose all of its appear rights, Grogan said.

After Grogan spoke, Leger said he wanted to see a hospital representative at this month’s meeting. One did appear — Leonard Tapia, Alta Vista’s chief financial officer. But Tapia said he wasn’t in the loop when it came to the hospital’s approach toward the union. He said that was the domain of Grogan, the hospital’s lawyers and officials from the corporate office.

However, Leger said he had asked that someone in the know come before the commission. He said he wasn’t satisfied with the explanation that the commission received last month about the union.

He proposed that the commission delay the latest monthly payment to the hospital until someone could give more of an explanation on the union.

Commission Chairman David Salazar asked County Attorney Jesus Lopez about the legality of such a move.

Lopez responded that Leger’s motion was “lawful and appropriate.”

“The commission as a whole directed Mr. Grogan or a high-level representative to address this commission concerning the ongoing dispute with the union. The commission, as the people’s representative, has a great interest in this,” the attorney said.

The commission voted unanimously to delay the payment to Alta Vista. Tapia told the commission that he would take the message back to Grogan.

A day later, a receptionist in Grogan’s office said he would be away from the hospital until next week.