Ex-CEO pushes back on audit of hospital near Navajo Nation

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The former CEO of Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital in Gallup on Wednesday challenged the findings of a special audit of finances and contracts at the taxpayer-supported hospital in Gallup.

David Conejo and attorney Luis Robles called the audit report “shoddy” and said it “misrepresents the true financial picture” at Rebohoth under Conejo’s tenure.

The audit, commissioned initially by McKinley County and released by the state auditor’s office on Tuesday, alleges that Conejo’s hospital management company Healthcare Integrity circumvented proper oversight by hiring hospital executives as its employees and requiring the hospital to pay their salaries.

Conejo condemned the audit as “grossly inaccurate” and denied its assertion that his salary was not approved by the hospital board of trustees, saying that a board attorney and a bond counsel to the hospital agreed the compensation was appropriate. The audit says Conejo was paid as much as $645,000 on year, while Robles says yearly pay was about $450,000 after related tax payments.

Conejo has sued for wrongful termination after being fired in June from his position overseeing the 60-bed hospital on the outskirts of the Navajo Nation. Rehoboth hospital was overwhelmed with critical COVID-19 patients in the spring as coronavirus infections surged in Gallup and prompted an emergency lockdown with police roadblocks to keep infections in check.

“The state’s conspiracy theory that all of these allegations of impropriety of executives being hired by Healthcare Integrity is just an attempt to create innuendo and misleading allegations when in fact the hospital board had the authority” to make changes, Robles said in a statement.

The audit also cites evidence of no-bid construction work at the hospital by a company owned by a hospital trustee, and outlines disputed charges for nigh staffing and doctors’ hours by another contractor with ties to a former chief operating officer.

New executives at the hospital say efforts are underway to ensure proper internal controls and restore financial integrity.