In Alamogordo, like in a lot of small towns, there’s one main hospital – Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center.
That hospital has attracted a lot of outside attention after an anesthesiologist and allegedly injured more than 80 patients in botched spine surgeries.
The lawsuits say Dr. Christian Schlicht injected a cement-like compound into the patient’s spines…even though Schlicht wasn’t a surgeon.
Dr. Schlicht and another doctor no longer work at the hospital.
“The physicians themselves…for lots of different reasons.”
Jim Heckert became Gerald Champion’s CEO in 2008.
“It could happen to anybody…”
Heckert fired Schlicht three months into being CEO. After all the lawsuits, the hospital filed for bankruptcy protection in 2011. Heckert says they won’t be profitable again for a few years.
“No, It’ll be three years before we get through that…and then the state’s done a significant amount of cuts in Medicaid. That certainly has a direct impact on us.”
We asked Mr. Heckert what the hospital could have done to keep doctors like Dr. Schlicht from practicing again.
“That’s really the state’s responsibility, not mine. That’s way beyond my ability to influence.”
So how does Gerald Champion plan to keep an event like that from happening again?
“…We centralized our peer review process to make it more robust and working with a lot of different agencies helping us with that.”
By many standards the hospital is performing on par or above par compared to similar hospitals.
But one area - emergency medicine – seems to need improvement.
KRWG News looked at Medicare data to see how the hospital compares to others. Medicare.dot.gov compares hospitals to state and U.S. hospitals in key areas.
Gerald Champion scored around three times the national average for wait times for patients with a possible heart attack to receive an EKG. That’s a reading of the heart that gives critical information to diagnose rhythm problems. Gerald Champion’s average time was 22 minutes.
It scored well on flu vaccination percentage – Gerald Champion was around 95 percent, above the national average of 86 percent.
For those in Alamogordo, there aren’t many medical choices, so a rural hospital like this has a lot riding on its performance.