News | July 24, 2020

Former Hospital CEO David Conejo Files Suit Against RMCHCS

CMS and NM Department of Health Exonerates Conejo of Alleged Mismanagement

Albuquerque, NM /PRNewswire/ - Former Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services' (RMCHCS) CEO David Conejo has filed a six-count lawsuit against RMCHCS and seven of its staff and one former staffer. The case has been filed in Federal Court in Albuquerque and with a potential trial date in late 2020. Conejo has also been absolved of any allegations of mismanagement by the federal government's Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).

The lawsuit charges the hospital with violation of the Lanham Act and New Mexico Common Law by purposely damaging the reputation of Conejo's company Health Care Integrity (HCI), Breach of Contract and Breach of Good Faith and Fair Dealing for violation of its management contract with Conejo. Additional charges include Tortious Interference with Conejo's contract, Civil Conspiracy and Defamation. The defendants in the case include Board Chair Laura Hammons, Chief Medical Officer Valory Wangler, Chief Nursing Officer Felicia Adams, and Lead Hospitalist Neil Jackson, Andrea Walker, Christopher Hoover, Mary Poel, Jaylyn Ellis.

The agency's findings contrast the numerous unconfirmed articles published by Independent Publisher Robert "Bob" Zollinger and his associates at Search Light New Mexico. An article published by Zollinger on July 17 even violated HIPAA laws.

Medical Authorities Find Fault With RMCH, Conejo Cleared
CMS investigated RMCH on June 26, 2020 to determine if the numerous allegations published by Zollinger were true amid protests led by Wangler, Adams, Jackson and Ellis. CMS found no wrong doing by Conejo despite contrary wide spread rumors published by Zollinger.

However, CMS did learn that RMCH violated requirements to review, investigate and resolve patient grievances within 10 days, ranging from medical issues to nurse rudeness and excessively high hospital bills. One patient was actually supposed to be transferred to her home but wound up in a long term care facility! CMS notes patients have the right to receive care in a safe setting, but RMCH did not meet these standards.

COVID-19 Death Uncovered
These violations potentially led to a critically ill patient's death from a poorly functioning ventilator with RMCH staff implementing incorrect adjustments to the patient's breathing tube. The tube slipped out the patient's windpipe rendering it unable to pump oxygen into the patient's lungs, among other findings such as nurses unable to locate doctors and failure to have an x-ray technician available. This issue was brought to the attention of CMS by a May 8, 2020 Search Light New Mexico article that reported on RMCH medical inefficiencies. The story violated the patient's rights under HIPPA laws.

"They were too busy partying on Facebook, conspiring on Petition.Org and conducting fake news press conferences to damage Conejo's stellar reputation. We will show the world the callousness and careless of the RMCH staff toward dying COVID-19 patients in the middle of a pandemic that devastated Gallup and the Navajo Nation," said Luis Robles, the attorney representing plaintiff Conejo. Robles is a 30 year legal veteran and partner in Robles, Rael and Anya, an award-winning law firm of 12 jurists located in Albuquerque who specialize in business and corporate law. "These medical maligners were busy with their phones, railing against Conejo and joining Zollinger's crusade for hospital advertising dollars. We will use their media efforts to help prove our case."

Hospital Board Collusion and Interference
Robles's complaint centers around collusion between the board and McKinley County officials, RMCH power grabs, media manipulation and interference with RMCH's management protocols.

Central to Conejo's claim were the efforts of RMCHCS Chair Laura Hammons who ignored the advice of the hospitals' attorney who stipulated that the hospital was a private, non-profit enterprise. She colluded in private meetings with close friend and former school mate McKinley County Manager Anthony Dimas against the hospital's financial interest. In these meetings which were not disclosed to Conejo and the hospital's attorney, Robles uncovered that she pursued Dimas' strategy that RMCH was actually the property of McKinley County, requiring a "special audit" since the county loaned the hospital money.

At a February hospital board meeting, Robles found that Hammons made allegations of dishonesty against Conejo and demanded he complete a list of board expectations and new job responsibilities, blind-siding board members. Despite never managing a hospital, Wangler offered her involvement to comparing the new responsibilities with Conejo's current job description. Hammons also demanded increased staff, contradicting a staffing consultants finding that RMCH was over-staffed.

Wangler Dangerously Overloads Hospital With COVID-19 Patients
As COVID-19 bore down on Gallup, Wrangler's virus Incident Command Team rationed PPE and overwhelmed the hospital by accepting 22 new patients, tripling the inpatient count and dangerously overloading the hospital's emergency resources. Conejo ordered the patients transferred to comparably empty hospitals in Albuquerque, but Wangler and pulmonologist Dr. Rajiv Patel refused to follow Conejo's order, risking patient's lives.

As the state ended elective surgeries, the hospital's revenues declined and Conejo requested the hospital staff take a ten percent pay cut to be repaid in several months. Wangler and other new doctors refused, demanding to review the hospital's books. Conejo complied, but they claimed he falsified documents and refused to discuss the financials with him.

Hammons Lead's Whistle-Blower Effort, Wangler Calls Strike
Wangler sent a letter to the board threatening that she and Drs. Patel and Jackson would quit. They met with the board to complain about staff and PPE shortages stemming from not renewing costly contract nurse agreements. The cancellations were requested by and approved by the board. Hammons then sent employees an emotional email blaming Conejo for the hospital's problems and urging "whistleblowers" to contact her.

Wangler, Walker and Jackson solicited employees to participate in a strike, threatening to quit if Conejo did not resign. Robles found that Hammons tried another tactic in her effort to make Conejo quit. She claimed the 75 year-old CEO did not perform new "contract obligations" she outlined.

Dimas Complains To Colon
To turn up the pressure on Conejo, Dimas filed a complaint with New Mexico State Auditor Brian Colon about Dimas' "special audit" not being completed. Hammonds then ordered a RMCH hiring spree, despite contrary findings from a staffing consultant. She also ordered staff to report to her directly, rather than Conejo, effectively removing his daily management despite his employment contract.

Hammons then organized a task force of strike leaders to manage Conejo. Wangler soon reported that Conejo was not performing his duties. She demanded to be named CEO as she has been "secretly" managing the hospital for months, despite no experience. She even solicited RMCH staff such as Adams for a "multi-disciplinary" corporation she was creating to solicit a management contract with Hammons.

Hammons sent Conejo a second notice that he was failing to perform his duties. She sent him a third notice 30 days later, terminating him despite her violation of his management contract which made the termination wrongful, forcing him to sue her and RMCH.

"As you can see from this greedy, sordid cast of characters, the hospital was run amok, putting politics ahead of patient care and pillorying Conejo, the heart of Gallup and one its most distinguished citizens," said Robles. "We demand justice and will settle for nothing less."

Source: Robles, Rael & Anaya, P.C.

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