Q&A: John Hummer promotes medical school, urges bipartisan cooperation

John Hummer says New Mexico’s new medical school in Las Cruces will help address the region’s doctor shortage and have a significant economic impact. He also says real change will require that the state’s elected leaders do a better job of working together.

John Hummer

Courtesy photo

John Hummer

“I believe they need to produce more tangible examples of win-win legislation and less lose-lose theatrical politics that prevent anything from getting passed,” Hummer said.

Hummer has been working on big projects in Southern New Mexico for years. He was the developer and founding chief executive officer of MountainView Regional Medical Center. He co-chaired a task force that successfully lobbied for a tax increase in Doña Ana County to help fund Spaceport America. He’s the co-founder and current president of Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, whose first class of students will begin their education later this month.

Hummer, a Republican, led the spaceport tax group in 2007 alongside Democrat Bill McCamley, who is currently a state representative but was a county commissioner at the time. Such experiences have taught Hummer that working across party lines can improve New Mexico.

“The courage to listen to one another’s ideas, compromise and do what is best for the overall well-being of the state is what we need to see more of in Santa Fe,” Hummer said. “My hope is that the one unifying goal that all the elected officials value, regardless of their political stripes, is a better future for their children, grandchildren, and their closest relatives or friends. And I truly believe that cannot happen without compromise.”

Hummer made his comments in an interview NMPolitics.net conducted by email — the latest in our Q&A series with people involved in New Mexico politics and government.

Hummer’s current focus is on Burrell College (BCOM), which he said has already contributed $34 million to the economy during the process of building and preparing to open its campus at New Mexico State University. The college will employ 74 people full-time when classes begin on Aug. 15, Hummer said. Payroll in its first year will be $9.8 million.

“The reason why we exist is to be a transformational force for education and health care,” Hummer said. “In addition to graduating medical students and facilitating the creation of new residencies throughout New Mexico and the region, our goal is to place a BCOM graduate in every New Mexico county. This will take time. But it is a journey worth taking.”

Hummer has another big idea he wants officials to consider: Consolidating some or all of the state’s four-year public colleges and universities in a shift from an “inefficient and outdated” system to one that can better function given today’s budget realities. The proposal would require an amendment to the state Constitution.

“But just as much, it would take political courage for elected officials in the cities and counties where these universities reside to at least be open to discussion, debate so that the idea can be evaluated,” Hummer said. “Then they need to be willing to listen and focus on what is best for the state as a whole, instead of protecting their respective turf.”

Here’s our full interview, with questions in bold and Hummer’s answers immediately following:

Since moving to Las Cruces in 2000, you’ve been involved in many aspects of economic development, health care, and transportation in the Las Cruces area, New Mexico, and along the border. This includes being the developer and founding chief executive officer of MountainView Regional Medical Center, co-founder and president of the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine, co-owner along with your wife Amy of Steinborn Inc. Real Estate, co-chair of the political action group that successfully lobbied for the tax increase that helped fund Spaceport America, and serving on the N.M. Transportation Commission and local and regional economic-development boards. With our economy still struggling in Las Cruces and New Mexico, what do we need to do to create more and better-paying jobs?

Well, “we” is a very broad constituency and encompasses many competing interests, so I think one has to be cautious about painting with a broad brush. But for the sake of the question, I will direct most of my answer towards the elected officials who hold offices in our state’s capitol, aka “the Roundhouse,” who are supposed to represent everyone regardless of their party affiliation, rank or title. I believe they need to produce more tangible examples of win-win legislation and less lose-lose theatrical politics that prevent anything from getting passed. This requires that individuals in leadership positions on both sides of the aisle take off their partisan hats, ignore their national party bosses, and do what is best for the future employment of our children and grandchildren. It will take political courage for many of these individuals to put NM before any national party ambitions and face down fears of being chastised by the special interests of their respective national party.

Let’s face it, our state needs major reform in many different areas. I will address just one: higher education. In my opinion, and I’m sure among many others too, our state has an inefficient and outdated higher education system. Budgets are not going to get any better for public education in New Mexico nor many other states throughout our nation. Would it not make sense to consolidate the duplicative programs among the seven (7) four-year universities located in Las Vegas, Portales, Silver City, Socorro, Española, Las Cruces and Albuquerque? Wouldn’t consolidation strengthen Mexico’s two flagship academic and research universities – NMSU and UNM? I recognize this would take a constitutional amendment. But just as much, it would take political courage for elected officials in the cities and counties where these universities reside to at least be open to discussion, debate so that the idea can be evaluated. Then they need to be willing to listen and focus on what is best for the state as a whole, instead of protecting their respective turf. It’s like a soccer player who scores his or her team’s only 3 goals, but the team ends up losing the game 3 to 5. The player who scored the 3 goals is perhaps very pleased and proud, but the entire team still lost?

If this type of provincial behavior does not change, our state is in serious trouble. The courage to listen to one another’s ideas, compromise and do what is best for the overall well-being of the state is what we need to see more of in Santa Fe. My hope is that the one unifying goal that all the elected officials value, regardless of their political stripes, is a better future for their children, grandchildren, and their closest relatives or friends. And I truly believe that cannot happen without compromise.

Do you believe local and/or state governments need to raise any taxes or increase revenues in other ways to help address our budget issues? Do you believe additional cuts are needed?

When it comes to taxes in New Mexico, like many, I have been a proponent of major tax reform. Even though this may have been attempted before, our entire tax system needs to be studied via a bipartisan commission. This commission should evaluate best practices and make recommendations regardless of party affiliation. Once the recommendations come forward, comprehensive change cannot occur, as already mentioned, unless a genuine commitment is made by the leadership and all members of the Legislature to discontinue the political theatrics of win-lose and instead seek win-win legislation that is in the best interest of our state not their respective parties. Now back to your question: It depends. It depends on the city in question and their situation. Right now, as a state we address taxes and revenue issues via piecemeal, short-term legislative fixes without any coherent planning. You see this type of behavior all over the country, not just here. You will have elected officials state they will never raise taxes. They technically don’t, but then they raise fees on permits, licenses, etc. Well guess what, I consider that a tax increase. It’s a shell game and disingenuous.

Then there is the case with some elected officials who have never run a business and unwisely announce across the board cuts of say 3 percent to every department. Well that is simply irresponsible. What if you had the following situation: Department A is somewhat efficient, but can only justify a 2 percent cut; department B is extremely efficient, running 3 percent under budget and could justify a 1.5 percent increase to meet its mission to the taxpayers; and department C is extremely inefficient and could easily justify a 6 percent cut. Well, the smart thing to do is reward the efficient departments and cut the wasteful department by 6 percent. Of course, I’m just using examples of percentages and not relative dollars, which is another important aspect in targeted budget cuts. So I do believe there is waste in most every major public bureaucracy, but it should be targeted and based on benchmarked data and never, ever, across-the-board cuts. And I also do not believe in ever pandering to the public and stating taxes will never be raised. That’s a lie and another irresponsible statement. If a disaster happens to the economy, they just might have to be raised. Just say it.

What potential do you see for growth and improved quality of life in Southern New Mexico?

I’m an optimist. In terms of Las Cruces and Doña Ana County, I see continued steady growth. As for Las Cruces in particular, I believe we will continue to gain strength as the major regional retail and medical hub for New Mexico citizens residing in the counties contiguous to us. I also believe we will continue to be the bedroom community of choice for those who commute and work in El Paso. As El Paso grows, we grow. Santa Teresa has all the right ingredients for continued growth. Rail, air, and trucking, coupled with the dryland border crossing, make our county an enviable bi-national transportation hub. As for the quality of life, I see that improving too, even though we have a lot to be proud of already. The Las Cruces Farmers Market is outstanding. The new Downtown Plaza is about to open, and that will bring many more outdoor events and retail to downtown. The Las Cruces Country Music Festival has been a big hit. Our wine and beer festivals are growing.

Because we are so closely tied to El Paso, I would also include El Paso in our quality-of-life equation. For example, we are season ticket holders for the Chihuahuas baseball team. Anyone who’s been knows just what I’m talking about, and if you haven’t been yet, you have been missing out. The team and experience adds tremendously to the quality of life for families in Southern New Mexico. I only touched on a small sample in this answer, but I believe there will be much more to come as growth continues in El Paso and Southern New Mexico.

The idea behind Burrell College — a public/private partnership between a corporation and a state university — is relatively new in New Mexico. How did you get involved with Burrell College and help make it a reality?

It all started in March of 2013 when I received a phone call from Bill Allen, then president of the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, asking if I would be willing to visit with George Mychaskiw, DO, a practicing Anesthesiologist in Orlando, Fla., who called Bill asking who he could visit with in the medical community as he was interested in starting an osteopathic medical school in affiliation with NMSU. Prior to that call, Dr. Mychaskiw had sent Dr. Manuel Pacheco, then-interim president of NMSU, a white paper describing the affiliation concept. Dr. Pacheco was intrigued by the concept, but informed Dr. Mychaskiw that as interim president, he could not move on such a large project.

I called George, had a good visit, and read his white paper. It was an ambitious idea, and after visiting with George I became intrigued myself. As a result of my professional career as a hospital executive and having worked in teaching hospitals, and with DOs, it was not a foreign concept. However, the thought of a medical school in Las Cruces, if presented to and supported by key constituents, would take a lot of work. Once Garrey Carruthers was appointed president, I contacted George on behalf of NMSU and extended an invitation to visit Las Cruces and NMSU’s Arrowhead Park. In July of 2013 we met with Garrey Carruthers, Kevin Boberg, Ben Woods, Bill Baker, DO, multiple hospital CEOs in the region, several elected officials, Bill Allen and Davin Lopez, MVEDA, to discuss the medical school concept.

After George’s visit, the feedback was positive and there was an agreement to continue to evaluate. George was not in a position to leave his current place of employment and come to Las Cruces full-time. The project would need someone on the ground to pull all the constituents together and manage the project. So I partnered with George to help make BCOM the reality that it is today.

George focused his efforts primarily on the accreditation processes, curriculum and faculty aspects, while I focused on the hospital affiliations and training network development, constituency support, as well as the contract negotiations with NMSU. However, we supported each other on both fronts and coordinated efforts. With NMSU’s leadership, we arranged site visits to college campuses with affiliations similar to the one proposed. I introduced the project to Dan Burrell as part of our capital sourcing. From that point forward, Dan took on the role of raising the remaining capital and building the governance, legal and organizational structures. Given the significant financial commitment made by Dan and his family, George and I felt it only fitting, as did NMSU, that the college should be named in honor of the Burrell family.

All three of us share the title of co-founder and now hold a position where our talents serve the best interest of BCOM and the fulfillment of its mission: George as the dean and chief academic officer, myself as president & executive board member, and Dan as chairman & executive board member. I would be remiss if I did not recognize Chancellor Garrey Carruthers of NMSU. Without his support, along with the support of his team, under the direction of Dr. Kevin Boberg, NMSU’s vice president of economic development, BCOM would not be a reality.

What do you expect will be the economic benefits of Burrell College and how do you expect it to help address the shortage of physicians in New Mexico?

First let me address the benefits of the BCOM to the community, starting with the recent completion of our $34 million in capital spend. Of that number, $22 million has been spent on the construction of the new medical school facility, $1.5 million on architectural and engineering fees, $8.5 million for capital equipment and technology, and $2 million will eventually be paid to the state of New Mexico in gross receipts taxes. Approximately 200 construction workers and subcontractors were employed on the BCOM project. By August 15th, the first day of class, we will have hired 74 full-time employees representing support staff, faculty, department chairs, associate and assistant deans and senior administration. BCOM’s payroll during our first year of operation will be approximately $9.8 million, not including benefits costs.

Going forward, Tripp Umbach, one of the country’s leading consulting firms for medical schools, stated that BCOM is expected, upon full operation (year 4), to support 350 jobs in the region and generate more than $77.7 million in total economic impact per year in the form of direct, indirect and induced economic impacts.

It is important to note that these numbers do not include the work that we are doing to create a new graduate medical education program (GME or post graduate residencies) with our clinical partners.   Tripp Umbach estimates that every new resident contributes $200,000 worth of economic benefit to the community, and if they remain in the community following the completion of the residency, $1.5 million in economic benefit to the community as a result of the establishment of their professional practice. Since funding for residents comes from outside sources (i.e. Medicare funding to hospitals, or Medicaid matching funds to FQHC’s), they represent fresh dollars for a community and state.

BCOM, under the leadership of Dr. Oliver Hayes, our associate dean of clinical affairs, worked with MountainView Regional Medical Center to assist MountainView in starting their first residency program, orthopedic surgery, this past June. Three new residents just arrived to Las Cruces to start their 5-year residency. MountainView is developing other programs, as is La Clinica de Familia with MMC; and we are in development discussions with many other clinical partners in NM and in El Paso and southern Arizona. We are an active member of the New Mexico Primary Care Consortium, whose mission it is to collaborate and development more primary care residencies throughout our state. The goal is to establish as many residencies as possible, so that when BCOM’s students graduate, they have more residency options right here in New Mexico or in the nearby region. After residents complete their residency, they have a 60 percent chance of remaining in the community, or near the community, in which they completed their residency. And if the residency is near the medical school in which they graduated, the retention factor is even higher.

The reason why we exist is to be a transformational force for education and health care. In addition to graduating medical students and facilitating the creation of new residencies throughout New Mexico and the region, our goal is to place a BCOM graduate in every New Mexico county. This will take time. But it is a journey worth taking.

It’s a rough time for New Mexico State University, which is having to address a $12.1 million budget shortfall this year. How will NMSU benefit from its partnership with Burrell College?  

I see NMSU benefitting in multiple ways. The quickest benefit is economic in that we executed a long-term land lease in NMSU’s Arrowhead Park paying a base rent of $268,329 in year one with a 1.5 percent escalation each year thereafter. The other economic benefit is in the form of student fees. Our students, although they are not NMSU students, via a purchased services agreement with NMSU, pay fees and are allowed to utilize various student services at NMSU, such as the recreation center, health center, transportation, eligibility for student housing, and other services. The other benefits are joint research and joint faculty appointments. Joint degree programs are potential benefits, such as a DO/MBA program.

Lastly, I would hope that one of the most significant, overriding benefits of our affiliation with NMSU is that this affiliation, due to Garrey Carruthers’ leadership, has helped many individuals within NMSU’s system to think creatively, out of the box about how to collaborate with an investor-owned, higher education medical school. Given the future of public funding, and not just with NMSU, but nationwide, I believe that Garrey Carruthers will be viewed as visionary in recognizing and supporting this affiliation with BCOM. Hopefully, the BCOM relationship will lead NMSU to explore more creative, mutually-beneficial relationships that can nurture the entrepreneurial and creative spirit that all successful universities will need to grow and prosper.

You’re a registered Republican, but you supported both of former Gov. Bill Richardson’s campaigns for that office and he appointed you to the state Transportation Commission. You have supported and worked with both Democrats and Republicans on various projects over the years. In these increasingly polarized times, what advice do you have for people who try to work across party lines to find compromise and improve people’s lives?

It’s funny. There are times when I meet someone for the first time, they are surprised that I am a Republican, and then there are some people who just assume I am a Democrat. I simply vote for the person I believe can get the job done regardless of their party, and I support positions on policy or legislation that I believe in regardless of party of affiliation. I’m going on my 34th year as a registered Republican. But really, if there was such a box to check it would be a box for moderate Republican. If anyone really wants to know the politics I was raised on, just look up Senator Nancy Landon-Kassebaum and Senator Bob Dole. These two moderates shaped my political leanings as I was growing up in Kansas. Fast forward to today, I would have a very hard time recognizing the party in Kansas right now given its extreme far-right turn and its failed experiment in radical tax cuts. I believe my answer to working across party lines was addressed in my first answer above.

Do you have plans to run for office at any time in the future? If so, what races are you considering and when?

I’ve been asked this question by a few of my close friends and acquaintances. I have also been encouraged to run in the past for a county commission position and a state Senate seat. However, the timing was not good for two main reasons, family and work, with family being the most important. I enjoy public service and making a difference in my community or state. I was raised in a family where this is just what was expected. To volunteer your time and contribute to your community. As for ever making the switch from serving on appointed boards and commissions and actually running for an elected position, I’ll admit it has crossed my mind over the years. But I said I would only look into it after our two boys had grown up and I was at a stage in my professional career where I could devote the time. Of course there are positions on a local or state level that would allow me to maintain my professional career here in Las Cruces. A congressional district run would take a lot more thinking, planning and quite frankly passion, which for now is what I am doing right here in Las Cruces with my professional career. Time will tell.

Disclosure: Hummer’s Steinborn & Associates Real Estate is an NMPolitics.net advertising sponsor. We maintain journalistic integrity by disclosing all donations and advertising sponsorships and giving donors/advertising sponsors no control over editorial content. View a full list of our 2016 advertising sponsors and donors here.

This BBSNews article was syndicated from NMPolitics.net, and written by Heath Haussamen, NMPolitics.net. Read the original article here.