New Mexico hospital battles addiction issues with high tech prescriptions to reach Navajo Reservation and communities

By David Dallago
- News From Indian Country (NFIC) -

New Mexican organizations are combining new behavioral health with high tech and low-tech strategies to fight addiction across the Navajo reservation in Northern New Mexico.

In addressing some of the root causes of these issues, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation introduced the Pathway’s Project, a four-year program that began this year to identify and address many of the underlying causes of these conditions.

They also identified Bernalillo, Dona Ana, Gallup-McKinley and San Juan County as locations to launch job creation programs using the strategies.

Organizations such as Gallup’s Na’ Nihzhoozhi Center Inc. (NCI) has 26,000 admissions every year and is the nation’s busiest treatment center with many repeat customers. The detox center was the result of an effort 30 years ago which began when more than 5,000 people marched from Gallup to Santa Fe to demand assistance from state lawmakers and received a $400,000 for a study to build a detoxification center. The hospital then received two-million-dollars in an ongoing yearly federal grant out of which NCI was born.

The leader of that effort in the 80s and 90s was David Conejo who returned in 2014 as the CEO of Rehoboth McKinley Christian Health Care Services (RMCHCS) where he continues to lead the fight against addiction with traditional tactics, but also behavioral healthcare innovations which have captured the attention of the healthcare industry.

David Conejo

Turning the Tables on Addiction

When he became CEO of RMCHCS a few years ago, he took a financially failing hospital and turned it around with the help of William Kiefer, Ph. D who is the hospital’s chief operating officer. Recognizing the root cause of the region’s health problem was addiction, Conejo revitalized a former rehab building on the hospital’s grounds and with some fundraising he launched the Behavioral Health Treatment Center.  

The center is operated by Ophelia Reeder, a long time health care advocate for the Navajo Nation and a board member of the Gallup Indian Medical Center. Bill Camorata, a former addict, is the Behavioral Special Projects Director. He opened “Bill’s Place”, an outdoors facility where he and hospital volunteers treated the homeless with meals, clothing and medical triage as part of Gallup’s Immediate Action Group which he founded and serves as president. The center has treated more than 200 addicted residents since the center opened in 2015 and has a staff of 30 who manage resident’s case work, provide behavioral health services and are certified in peer support.

Health Information
Technology in High Gear

From this traditional form of behavioral health addiction treatment, Conejo has turned to health information technology in his pursuit of behavioral health care remedies. He leveraged government insurance changes in Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), under the Obama Administration. Rather than traditional acute care services, CMS began to shift its focus on preventive care, identifying a 6:1 cost savings ratio.

RMCHCS Hospital in Gallup, New Mexico

Conejo recognized that RMCHCS would benefit by offering preventative care services which fit perfectly with his behavioral care plans while creating a new revenue center through reimbursements by CMS. To achieve this, he recognized the need for the convergence of hospital information across clinical, financial, and operational systems.

At the end of 2017, Conejo teamed up with Zoeticx, a Silicon Valley based healthcare software company.

Zoeticx provides healthcare system interoperability and applications designed to integrate and streamline hospital patient data. The applications include Annual Wellness Visits (AWV) for patients over age 60, chronic care management for illnesses such as diabetes and care transition, the elusive link between physical and behavioral health services, the very apps Conejo needed to move forward.

Conejo installed the Zoeticx software to provide enhanced behavioral services to Gallup residents. He integrated data from the hospitals’ three clinics which enable tracking of wellness visits, provides patient’s doctors with a physical care assessment guide through preventative exams and maps out the risk factors for potential diseases in patient follow-up visits.

These apps also enabled him to integrate patient medical records in a way that could meet CMS and private insurers billing requirements. As a result, RMCHSC’s business is growing with almost full insurance compliance. In addition, RMCHCS has also received a bonus check for $80,000 from Medicare for containing costs, in addition to new revenues being generated.

As a benefit to Gallup residents, hospital physicians can now spend more time with patients. When patients come in for an exam, the physician already has the needed information about their meds, compliance and other important factors, enabling care givers to spend more time with patients and less time with the computer.

Telemedicine Next Step

Conejo’s next big technology push will be a telemedicine program enabling reservation patients to be seen by mobile healthcare physicians connected by satellite to the Internet to extend the hospital’s outreach to patients who can’t visit the hospital for various reasons.  This will enable patients to be treated as if they were at one of the hospital’s clinics.

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