An internal Christus St Vincent Regional Medical Center memo blames a loss in funding from Santa Fe County for downsizing 14 hospital jobs.
The employees are being "affected by a re-organization within the hospital," according to the memo, but "it is [Christus'] heartfelt purpose to place those affected in other jobs within the hospital before July 1."
Christus nurse and New Mexico Hospital Union member Jack White tells SFR that at least seven of those employees are nurses who were let go after certified medical assistants were trained to take over some of their duties.
"This has been coming down for a while—they really want to spend less money on clinic nurses," White says.
Another tactic, White says, being used to minimize nursing costs is hiring nurses as management so they're exempt from the ability to organize and thus from some benefits.
"Since Christus has taken over, management has been more skillful in dealing with the nurses they have employed in their new practices and have forced them as a term of employment to sign up as exempt employees," White says.
The memo states that the internal reorganization is necessary because of reductions in funding, including "a dramatic reduction in Sole Community Provider funding." That's the money that Christus gets from the federal government based on a match from Santa Fe County. The money is intended to be spent on indigent health care for county residents.
County Commissioner Kathy Holian tells SFR it's unfair for Christus to blame the county because the amount it contributed allows the hospital to get as much indigent care money as their estimated indigent care claims anyway. In past years, Christus has received far more indigent care money than its claims indicate it needs, and does not have to account for how that funding is used.
"They seem to have plenty of money for what they want to do," White says. "If they were really trying to save money they wouldn't be bidding on Physicians Medical Center."
Christus is in talks to buy a surgical hospital in Santa Fe where specialized, elective surgeries are performed. CEO Alex Valdez has said the hospital can afford that in spite of the indigent care money shortage because it's a different funding stream.
For White, the "reorganization" jeopardizes negotiations that are currently going on between the nurses' union and the hospital.
"They were saying, 'You have to learn to trust us,' and it turns out, at exactly the same period of time, they were laying off nurses," White says.