Local Gallup Hospital Severely Understaffed Amid COVID-19 Crisis

Posted by PKSD Law Firm on May 08, 2020 in Medical Negligence

Healthcare workerSevere staffing deficiencies and poor executive decisions at the Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital has created an environment that staff physicians and nurses are calling dangerous. In the last two weeks, the death of one patient due to alleged health workers’ “gross mismanagement” and another due to an improperly positioned ventilator, is pushing physicians to act.

On May 5, a group of ad hoc staff physicians, officially known as Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services took a vote that ultimately led them to submit a declaration of no-confidence in the Gallup hospital’s CEO, David Conejo.

Declaration of No-Confidence Allegations

The Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services group make it clear that, “The board members should understand that they are ultimately responsible for breaches in their fiduciary obligations to the hospital system by allowing the CEO to create unsafe working conditions.”

The letter of declaration submitted by the ad hoc group includes a number of allegations against Conejo, including:

  • Demonstrating poor fiscal management
  • Making decisions that created an unsafe working environment
  • Failing to effectively communicate throughout the crisis
  • Promoting a lack of transparency at the facility

Of particular concern, are several decisions made by Conejo to reduce staff amid this unprecedented crisis, especially since the Gallup hospital is the only facility available to the general public within 100 miles. The only other hospital is the Gallup Indian Medical Center, which is located across the street.

Staffing Decisions Made Due to Financial Losses

Conejo, in several emails to staff made decisions to reduce staff because of the state’s order to halt all elective surgeries. This included terminating the contracts of 17 staff nurses, who were primarily responsible for providing coverage in the emergency and operating rooms.

This decision had an especially devastating effect since the Navajo Nation has seen a surge in COVID-19 cases, including 10 nurses and 20 other employees.

The medical staff, citing patient concerns, were angered by the CEO’s lack of foresight in preparing for the pandemic. With the hospital dangerously understaffed, the physician task force felt immediate action was needed.

Critical Errors

As a result of this news story, Searchlight discovered that the Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital, a 60-bed hospital with an eight-bed intensive care unit, has been operating at less than the minimum required staffing ratio for some time.  National guidelines recommend a nurse-patient staffing ratio of one-to-three in most circumstances, except in critical care units, which requires a one-to-one or one-to-two ratio.

The facility’s medical staff say that the reduced ratio has forced health care workers to provide a level of care outside the scope of their training. One labor and delivery nurse who was assigned to a critical care unit in late April, was the only nurse on-duty in a unit with six patients. This nurse admits anonymously of being overwhelmed and unable to respond to the non-stop call lights during that shift.

Searchlight conducted interviews with multiple other hospital employees, including six physicians, three nurses and other care staff. A number of other complaints and internal emails were also reviewed, and by all accounts, the hospital is, and has been severely short-staffed and mismanaged during this crisis.

Life-altering and life-ending errors have occurred, including the COVID-19 patient who died in late April after a ventilator, which was improperly placed, slipped out of place and went unnoticed for hours. In a letter to administrators following a peer review of this case, a patient safety officer reported that, “Staff insufficiently trained to manage critically ill patients, compounded by old equipment contributed to serious, life-altering errors in two patients in the last month.”

Conejo did not respond to any of Searchlight’s request for comments, however, a public information officer for the hospital wrote that, “COVID-19 is a new challenge for everyone. We are learning every day and our staff is working very hard to provide the best care possible for our COVID-19 patients.”

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