Thousands of cancer patients in northern New Mexico may be left without care

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SANTA FE, N.M. – Around 4,000 patients battling cancer in New Mexico may have to find new doctors and treatment options after a major medical group in Santa Fe terminated a contract with an independent cancer practice.

Doctors with New Mexico Cancer Care Associates says Christus St. Vincent gave notice to those patients that at the end of May, they are terminating their contract with NMCCA months before the contract was set to expire. Those patients traveling from all over the northern part of the state to the facility located in Santa Fe.

One of those patients is John Urbanowski. In 2017, he was diagnosed with Metastatic cancer, a disease he knows he’ll never beat.

"A cure is not likely so this is what we are doing," said Urbanowski.

For the past two years he has been receiving treatment at the Christus St. Vincent Cancer Center to prolong his life. The center is operated by NMCCA. Then a few weeks ago, he and thousands of others received a letter from the President and CEO of Christus St. Vincent, letting him know they are terminating the contract with NMCCA on May 27. While they told him he would still have care, he doesn’t believe it.

"What a mess,” Urbanowski said. “Don’t they see what they are doing to their patients?"

Now, Urbanowski and other patients have to find new oncologists and treatment options on short notice. While still undergoing current treatment with NMCCA.

"I don’t know if I can find someone," said Urbanowski.

That’s a concern for New Mexico Cancer Care Associates as well.

"It’s quite shocking that they would compromise patient care to the point of catastrophe," said Dr. Kathryn Chan president of NMCAA.

Dr. Scott Herbert who is also with NMCCA agrees.

"We are worried they are going to fall through the cracks during this transition,” said Herbert.

They say the contract was supposed to last through 2022, giving patients plenty of time to find other options. However, they claim that changed when the group turned down an offer to work exclusively for Christus.

"It seems like it was done purposefully to put us at a disadvantage and unfortunately it’s the patients that pay for it," Herbert said.

Now, many believe the disease they’re fighting isn’t the only threat to the time they have left.

"Unfortunately, we don’t know any more than they do,” Dr. Herbert said. “Right now Christus does not have the resources to take these patients over."

There is also a massive need for oncologists across the country. Finding doctors to fill all those positions will be difficult.

KOB reached out to Chrisus St. Vincent President and CEO Lillian Montoya, she sent us the following statement:

“There are two issues that we hope to finalize at mediation. Currently, CHRISTUS St. Vincent conducts all the billing for NMCCA and the services they are contracted to provide and would be supportive of continuing this practice, or a similar practice, until they have secured their own contracts with insurance companies.

We’ve offered proposals to NMCCA to address these issues and they have not responded. Nor have they agreed to our requests for mediation.

Mediating these serious issues through the media is not appropriate nor fair to patients.”

The statement also addressed why the contract was being terminated early.

“From the time they decided to move in a new direction, they have not been meeting the requirements of their current contractual arrangements for which they are being paid. Because of NMCCA’s contractual breaches, we had to plan for termination earlier than anticipated in order to ensure continuity of patient care.”

Mediations are expected to take place between the two groups before May 27.