SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — The former CEO of a rural hospital in northwestern New Mexico is alleging in a lawsuit filed Thursday that his contract was unfairly terminated in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

The lawsuit by David Conejo and his hospital management company takes aim at the board chairwoman and medical staff at Rehoboth McKinley Christian Hospital in Gallup.

The city was subject to an extreme 10-day lockdown in May to contain surging COVID-19 infections in the region, as doctors and nurses at Rehoboth staged a public protest to criticize staffing levels and call for the ouster of Conejo.

The lawsuit asserts that Conejo was wrongly blamed for consequences of the pandemic in violation of contract provisions. It says a medical officer made the fateful decision to accept an overwhelming number of coronavirus patients from a local detox center.

The lawsuit seeks payment for damages to Conejo's reputation and loss of earnings. State Auditor Brian Colón is conducting a special audit of finances at Rehoboth McKinley Christian hospital.

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