Nor-Lea Special Hospital District CEO David Shaw attributes success to public engagement

by Kathleen Sloan | December 2, 2020
4 min read
Nor-Lea CEO David Shaw: a model of transparency, stability and community outreach Photograph courtesy of Nor-Lea Special Hospital District

“You should speak to David Shaw,” recommended New Mexico Hospital Association Lobbyist Dan Weaks at an online informational meeting held on Nov. 19 about Sierra Vista Hospital’s proposed restructuring.

Shaw is CEO of the Nor-Lea Special Hospital District in Lovington, New Mexico, which he described, in a recent interview with the Sun, as “one of the most profitable, publicly owned critical-access hospitals in the country.”

The Sierra County Joint Powers Commission—the “owners’ board”—is seeking to change the hospital’s ownership and governance structure to a special hospital district, the same as Nor-Lea’s. ( Links to the Sun’s two previous “explainers” on the proposed restructuring can be found at the end of this story.)

If enabling legislation sponsored by New Mexico Representative Rebecca Dow and New Mexico Senator-elect Crystal Diamond passes in the upcoming Roundhouse session, the special hospital district will become the owners of Sierra Vista Hospital, which will be overseen by a five-person board of trustees elected by and representing Sierra Countians. The trustees may be at large or single-member candidates; which form of representation will be decided by the Sierra County Commission.

Shaw said Nor-Lea’s trustees are chosen as single-member candidates. Voters within each of five districts of equal population choose their trustee for a four-year term. Nor-Lea serves a population of about 12,000—similar in size to that served by Sierra Vista.

“I spend a lot of time and effort educating the board,” Shaw said. “I think if I do a really good job educating them, they do a really good job of serving the people.”

Shaw and the trustees meet once a month. Very few members of the public attend—“I think,” he explained—“because they are happy with their medical care. Sometimes I have to tip the press when something big is happening.”

Shaw also makes a point of soliciting feedback from a broad spectrum of community members. “I think most of the people know me. I’ve built a lot of relationships in the community.”

Another key to the hospital’s success and stability is the length of Shaw’s tenure. “I have been CEO for 21 years,” Shaw said. “I’ve raised my family here. I am invested in the community.”

Special hospital districts have taxing authority, allowing them to collect up to 4.25 mills of property tax with voter approval. The Nor-Lea Special Hospital District collects 4.0 mills, approved by Lovington voters in two increments.

“We have an election every two years,” Shaw said of the Nor-Lea hospital district’s two levies, one of which is for 1.5 mills, the other for 2.5 mills. Each sunsets every four years.  

“Passage is never a problem,” Shaw said. “It is approved by about 90 percent.”

Tax revenues and the expenditures they support are explained every year on the Nor-Lea Special Hospital District website. These local tax dollars help local people, as they largely go to indigent and charity claims for “district members only.”

The website also publishes a price list comparing medical-service charges among the five surrounding hospitals. Nor-Lea is the most competitive.

The year-end audit report presented annually on the website is accompanied by a long essay by Shaw. He explains what new projects were undertaken and why. The “why” is based on findings from regular community health surveys, a practice that goes back many years, demonstrating long-range planning and goal setting that is monitored, with results communicated to the public. 

For example, a survey showed Nor-Lea needed 25 additional primary care physicians to meet demand. Over the last 10 years Shaw has made it a budgetary goal to close the gap. His 2019 essay reported 20 of the 25 needed primary care docs have been hired.

Another community survey showed 20 years ago the district had one of the highest death rates from cancer in the state. In the intervening years, Shaw’s 2019 essay states, the district’s cancer death rate has been reduced from 36 percent to 6 percent. It is now among the lowest in the state.

Asked what advice he would give to the Sierra Vista Hospital JPC about forming a special hospital district, electing trustees and then holding a vote on a new property tax, Shaw said: “I am on the side of transparency. You have to make the case to the public. Patient care should be the focus.”

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
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Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.


Changing ownership and governance of Sierra Vista Hospital to a “special hospital district” is on legislative menu again
by Kathleen Sloan | November 11, 2020

Sierra County’s state elected officials, Representative Rebecca Dow and newly elected Senator Crystal Diamond, will present legislation in the upcoming session that will trigger the...

Sierra Vista Hospital’s problems are rooted in hidden contention among leaders and over-borrowing, says Senator John Arthur Smith
by Kathleen Sloan | November 30, 2020

The veteran senator supports the creation of a special hospital district because of his firsthand knowledge of the hospital's management, financial and governance problems.

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