4 Investigates: Patients impacted by Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital troubles

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GALLUP, N.M. – A billboard for Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital a few miles out of Gallup makes a promise: “Your health is our priority.” 

Many say it is a promise not kept. Over the past year, the labor and delivery unit closed, patients have dealt with broken air conditioning and fickle phones, while the hospital dealt with lawsuits, investigations, and constant financial uncertainty. Patients say they have paid the price.

“All of a sudden, I just started shaking, and sweating and got the chills,” said a patient whose symptoms prompted him to go to the emergency room at RMCH in February.

The man–who did not want to be identified–told KOB 4 that staff put him in a dirty room and told him to pull himself together. 

“My arm put me in excruciating pain, brought me to tears,” he said. “I was crying, and she told me, ‘Stop crying, it’s mind over matter, man up.’”

After a few hours, he said RMCH staff tried to discharge him, and security kicked him out after he demanded to speak to a doctor. A day later, he learned he was having a heart attack.

“He goes, ‘Babe, I lost my sight. I can’t see. Everything is white,’” his wife said, recalling her terrifying drive toward Albuquerque the next morning. “I started panicking. I’m like, ‘What are you talking about?’ He goes, ‘I can’t see, I can’t see.’ I say, ‘Well, I don’t think we’re going to make it. I don’t think we’re going to make it to Albuquerque, please hold on.’”

The man and his wife barely made it to the hospital in Grants, one hour away.

“I blamed myself,” the man said. “Because I didn’t listen to her or my mom to just go to Grants. If I died, it would have been my fault.”

After a heart bypass, William Joe Henderson said he went to RMCH with no feeling in his legs.

“They just gave me a shot and sent me home,” he said.

Two days later, Henderson said his vascular doctor at UNMH in Albuquerque rushed him in for a second emergency bypass.

“’There’s no blood flow or nothing going into your legs,’” Henderson recalled what his doctor told him before he went under. “They said they were going to have to cut my legs off, if I didn’t have emergency surgery right away.”

Both men said they are hesitant to go back to RMCH.

“I’m going to lose my legs or my life,” Henderson said. “I just hope the hospital gets better.”

The hospital’s CEO insisted financial struggles have not affected care. Instead, he pointed to the hospital’s location.

“Unfortunately, in rural America, that’s often the case is that when people come to a facility that we either don’t, as I said, we don’t have the specialty services or the we don’t have equipment or the things that are needed to care for them, and need to transfer them to another facility,” Robert Whitaker said.

McKinley County’s recent $6.78 million purchase of the three remaining hospital properties brings new cash and new hospital board leadership. KOB 4 asked RMCHCS Board Chairman Bill Lee what role the board plays in making sure people get the care they need moving forward.

“We are certainly responsible for overlooking and overseeing that the quality is there,” he said. “With the ever-increasing inflation and higher cost of goods and services, all of that begins to snowball and catch up with you, especially when you’re already in a tenuous situation. And so, these are the challenges that we have really been kind of laser-focused on as a board of directors, and trying to find some remedies and some resources to help the hospital continue to provide the services that the community needs.”

“We’ve got some miles to cover and some ground to cover and some hard work to do still,” he added. “But if our community is behind us, what I can say about this, is that Gallup’s community has never let something fail that they care deeply about.”

The county plans to gradually become new management for the hospital as well, giving the Community Health Action Group in Gallup hope, something they thought was long gone.

“This really feels like a turning point,” said local physician and the group’s lead organizer Dr. Connie Liu. “I think the county in particular is trying to walk a fine line between deliberate and making good decisions with the best information that they have, but they’re also trying to move swiftly to ensure that the hospital has what it needs in order to move forward.” 

RMCHCS officials encourage patients who are not satisfied with their care, or have questions or concerns of any kind, to call their patient experience expert at 505-863-7000.