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Providing ‘quality, safe care’ is Memorial Medical’s top priority


“It’s all about the people of southern New Mexico,” Memorial Medical Center (MMC) Chief Executive Officer John Harris said in a recent interview.

“We need to be our best,” said Harris, who has been Memorial’s top executive for almost eight years.

Harris’ message to everyone who works at the hospital is “to manage this place like the next person that comes in is a member of your family or a friend.”

 “Quality, safe care is our No. 1 priority,” he said.

MMC was named the top-performing hospital in the 88-hospital LifePoint Health system that Memorial is part of. It was also rated the best hospital and best place to work in the 2021 Bulletin’s Best of the Mesilla Valley contest.

Harris, who has been a hospital administrator for nearly 45 years, became MMC CEO Nov. 1, 2013.

“This is very special to me,” Harris said. “There’s a lot of great work being done here.”

He currently serves as chairman of the New Mexico Hospital Association board of directors and is also chair of the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine’s board of trustees. Harris is also a member of the boards of the Mesilla Valley Economic Development Alliance (MVEDA), the Borderplex Alliance and the Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce.

Harris noted that MMC Chief Nursing Officer Caryn Iverson is president of the New Mexico Nurses Association.

“We are developing MMC into a major regional health care center,” Harris said, serving all of southern New Mexico.

The hospital uses cutting-edge equipment, he said, and “the highest level of science.”

A $2.1 million surgical robot is one of MMC’s recent purchases, Harris said. It was used for the first time ever in March 2021 by Dr. Victor Barnica, who is “an expert at removing polyps and cancerous masses,” the MMC website said. The robot can also assist medical staff with a wide range of other surgeries, the website said, offering 10x magnification in 3D.

Harris said MMC’s Dr. Ferman Fontan is the only surgeon in New Mexico “doing bariatric surgery robotically.” MMC’s bariatric services can be “life changing” for patients and their families, and the results are often “just breathtaking,” Harris said.

 As an extension of bariatric services, he said MMC has set up a heartburn clinic, and uses a tiny, minimally invasive magnetic “bracelet” to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease.

MMC performs more than 25,000 cardiac procedures annually and has “a total, integrated cardiovascular program,” Harris said.

Memorial Cancer Center is the only comprehensive cancer program in southern New Mexico affiliated with research experts at the University of New Mexico Comprehensive Cancer Center, the hospital website said.

Harris said he is “very, very proud of that program and those people.”

The hospital also has an “outstanding group” of anesthesia providers, he said, working with Somnia, a national health care provider.

TeamHealth, another national health care provider, serves as MMC’s Emergency Department providers.

“We choose our partners really, really carefully,” Harris said.

He said the hospital also offers a wide range of other services, including advanced treatment for type 1 and type 2 diabetes, with a focus on limb salvage. MMC had the first pediatric care unit in southern New Mexico, and its services go “beyond general pediatrics” to include a pediatric interventionist, intensive care and pediatric specialties. The hospital has a stroke center, offers joint replacement and all forms of general and orthopedic surgery. Its urology services are “dramatically improved,” Harris said. MMC conducts many patient transfers a month and has its own dedicated ambulance. MMC’s emergency services were voted Best Local Hero in Bulletin’s Best.

MMC has “very, very high caliber” surgeons and physicians, Harris said.

Harris said he regularly talks to MMC employees, from housekeeping staff to surgeons, about all aspects of the hospital and the services it provides and is “very lucky to have the people that are around me.”

“That’s the kind of culture that you should have,” Harris said. “That’s what’s really, really special about Memorial. We choose to be exceptional. That’s the religion of this institution.”

Hospital, experienced staff serve as ‘safe’ hub during Covid

“Getting vaccinated is a good thing,” Memorial Medical Center (MMC) CEO John Harris said. “Vaccines are safe.”

Like other hospitals, Harris said MMC has seen a recent resurgence in Covid-19 patients, with 10 to 15 being seen daily at the hospital, Harris said. As of late August, 100 percent of current Covid patients are unvaccinated, the hospital said.

“Please get vaccinated,” Harris said in a message to the community.

Harris said 90 percent of MMC’s 1,400 employees have been vaccinated against Covid and the hospital continues to mandate mask wearing and other safety protocols to keep the public safe and to keep the hospital’s employees and their families safe as well, he said.

Harris also said it is “absolutely safe” to be treated at MMC for any health issue.

It can “be more dangerous putting off care,” he said.

Hospital staff have the necessary personal protective equipment to deal with Covid, Harris said, and have “much more control over exposure in the hospital.”

MMC staff are “extremely well educated in what to do and what not to do” in dealing with the virus, he said.

“Don’t put off your health care,” Harris said. “Wear a mask, get vaccinated, see your doctor.”

MMC has “operated as a hub” in providing vaccines, he said, and has administered more than 26,000 doses and conducted more than 20,000 Covid tests.

Twyla Anderson, registered nurse, is MMC’s director of Infection Control and Prevention and has been with the hospital for 37 years. In dealing with Covid, Anderson is “at the helm, guiding all our actions,” Harris said.

“She is the most experienced in the state,” he said.

Harris said he has met with Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to discuss the pandemic.

“She knows if she needs us, we are here for her and New Mexico,” Harris said.