Nor-Lea General Hospital: David Shaw, CEO

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The quiet life of a rural community has the promise of  “the simple life.” There’s less traffic, less noise and more wide-open spaces. Keeping the residents of a rural community healthy isn’t quite as simple. In fact, according to Nor-Lea General Hospital CEO and Administrator David Shaw, operating a medical facility in one of New Mexico’s more rural communities is among his biggest challenges. Medical service providers need to be able to communicate effectively and share medical records among scattered clinics. Hospitals also need to recruit physicians to serve in these rural areas.

“We have a real commitment here to be the best place for people to work in the community and to be the best place for our community to receive patient care,” Shaw said. We also have a real commitment to service. It’s because of these commitments that we are successful.”

Founded in 1980, Nor-Lea, located in Lovington, N.M., is a critical-access hospital with 25 beds. It operates as part of the Nor-Lea Hospital District, a state-governed medical services provider with a locally elected board of trustees. In addition to the hospital, Nor-Lea operates Nor-Lea Home Health and Home Medical, Lovington Medical Clinic, Tatum Medical Clinic, the Family Health Center of Lea County in Hobbs and Nor-Lea Specialty Clinic. In addition, the district operates the Lovington Student Healthcare Center located on the campus of Lovington Junior High School, as well as the Heritage Program for Senior Adults.

Nor-Lea currently has 250 employees, 10 physicians on active staff and about 30 other physicians with courtesy privileges, all of whom cover family medicine, cardiology, gastroenterology, general surgery, oncology, pediatrics, radiology, rheumatology and urology. In addition, the hospital provides emergency services, home health, imaging, laboratory services, outpatient surgery and physical therapy.


With a population of a little more than 10,000, Lovington is the county seat of Lea County, which has a population of about 55,000. The hospital also serves the community of Hobbs, population close to 30,000, located 25 miles south of Lovington.

When looking at service payments, Shaw said that roughly 40% of Nor-Lea’s patients are covered by Medicare, 10% are Medicaid patients, and about 35% are covered by commercial insurance.

“We have a pretty good commercial health insurance patient base,” Shaw said.

Electronic Initiatives

According to Shaw, who has been with Nor-Lea as its CEO since December 1999, the most critical hospital initiative today is the district’s move to implement an integrated electronic medical record (EMR) system, linking all locations and services throughout the network. Also, with an EMR, the hospital plans to participate in quality measurements and comparisons to national benchmarks.

“We have some key individuals within the organization who are working to push this along,” he said.

The implementation process is currently at stage three, with a project completion timeline of about 2.5 years, he said. Nor-Lea contracted with CPSI Healthcare Information and Patient Care System, which specializes in EMR projects at smaller hospitals.

“The process has been a good experience to date,” he said.

Human Resources Challenges

With Nor-Lea’s location in a community populated with its share of farmers and ranchers, Shaw faces a significant challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining qualified medical practitioners and specialists. To help combat this challenge, the hospital created partnerships with local colleges and universities. The hospital provides preceptors for nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. Through The University of New Mexico and New Mexico Junior College, the hospital offers preceptors for nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants.

“Nurse preceptors serve as valuable resources to staff members,” Shaw said. “These knowledge-sharing experiences have been very successful for us. We don’t experience a lot of the shortages in nursing like other facilities are, due to this relationship.”

In addition, Nor-Lea has supported a few physicians in the community as they worked through medical school, with the caveat that they commit to work at the hospital for a period of time once their residencies are completed.

We have partnerships where we work with residents,” Shaw said. “We’ve been able to help residents improve their skills and provide them with an education. In turn, we get some qualified physicians at our hospital.”

When it comes to hiring practices, Nor-Lea has a peer-process in which certain staff members participate in the interviewing of potential employees. Shaw said department managers select candidates who they think are qualified to participate in the employee selection process.

“We found that this has been very helpful, in that the person who’s coming on board has been vetted by one of the piers in the department,” he said.

Adding Space

Nor-Lea is currently embarking on a 28,000-square foot addition to the hospital’s outpatient area, with groundbreaking expected in November. Working with Dallas architectural firm Rees Associates, the project calls for the creation of a centralized registration area for all services in the hospital.  They’re also looking at taking advantage of technology that can be used with kiosks for laboratory services patient registration, as well as new laboratory technology that would reduce turnaround times.

“We’re trying to build a facility that takes advantage of staff efficiencies as well as patient care,” Shaw said.

In addition, Nor-Lea is working with construction manager Robins & Morton to help assess project costs and building efficiencies.

“They will help us determine if the building’s design is efficient for patients and staff so that in the future the hospital can do more with less staff,” Shaw said. “A combination of the design and technology should help us with that.”

Patient and Employee Satisfaction

Shaw noted that Nor-Lea was ranked as the best place to receive patient care over the past two years. He believes this recognition is due to the organization’s focus on patients’ needs ahead of staff and management’s needs.

“We focus on trying to be the best we can be, for our patients and for our physicians, as well as trying to create a working environment in which our employees enjoy being here,” the CEO said. “If employees are happy and they feel like they are in the right position to do the right thing then your patients will be happy.”

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