Sandy Aschenbrenner
Sandy Aschenbrenner, a teacher at V. Sue Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, was pleased with her experience at UNM Sandoval Regional Medical Center.
Credit: John Arnold

When Sandy Aschenbrenner flipped her four-wheeler while off-roading in the Jemez Mountains last fall, the heavy ATV crushed her left arm against a rock, shattering the bones.

“I think I went into shock,” she says. Her husband rushed her to the newly opened Sandoval Regional Medical Center in Rio Rancho, where the emergency department staff immobilized the arm, gave her a prescription for painkillers and scheduled her for surgery with Dr. Paul Echols, a University of New Mexico orthopedic surgeon.

Two days later, after the swelling had subsided, Echols pieced the bones in her arm back together with a plate and 14 screws.

Today, Aschenbrenner, who lives in Rio Rancho and teaches at V. Sue Cleveland High School, twists and flexes her arm to demonstrate her recovery.  “I have almost 100 percent movement,” she says. “I can do the backstroke again.”  

As the 72-bed SRMC reaches its first anniversary, Aschenbrenner and other satisfied patients hail the state-of-the-art hospital for its accessibility, quality and patient-centered medical care. The hospital was recently honored by Press Ganey Associates for consistently achieving the 95th percentile of performance in patient care. Press Ganey measures and analyzes the patient experience at thousands of hospitals across the country.

Count Rio Rancho resident Jennifer Gregg as one of those satisfied patients. She says that when she took her 7-year-old son to the SRMC emergency room for an allergic reaction to an ant bite, there was no wait. “They were absolutely wonderful,” Gregg says.

She recently underwent outpatient surgery there for a deviated septum, which was diagnosed because doctors thought to order a CT scan in treating her recurrent sinus infections.

“For the first time in my life, I can breathe,” Gregg says. “My husband says I don’t snore anymore.”

Gregg’s enthusiasm for SRMC has proven contagious. “My whole family uses them,” she says. “My husband’s family also has started going over to them.”

She praises the hospital’s spacious physical layout and the friendliness of the staff, nurses and physicians. “They care about the patient,” she says. “They’re very cooperative.”

Aschenbrenner, who spent the night in the hospital following her orthopedic surgery, recalls the anesthesiologist giving her a nerve block for the pain. “I do remember waking up in the evening and feeling great,” she says. “At 6:05, when it wore off, I was dying.”

Once a nurse adjusted her pain meds, Aschenbrenner noticed that she was the only patient in the house. A visiting group of her fellow teachers were escorted up to her spacious room and her husband got to spend the night on a fold-out bed.

“It was beautiful,” she says. “I had the whole view of the mountains. I got to see the balloons when they came up in the morning.”

Her surgeon checked in the next day and called after she was discharged from the hospital to make sure her recovery was smooth. “Dr. Echols was fantastic,” Aschenbrenner says. “He told me what he was going to do and he did it.” 

Dr. Paul Echols

Echols referred Aschenbrenner to the hospital’s physical therapy team for her follow-up care. She unprepared for how much the injury and its aftermath would drain her energy. “I had to miss a whole month of school,” she says. “I was surprised how tired I was.”

“I started doing PT, and within two months I was normal,” she says. “It was easy to get into and easy to work around your schedule.”

Aschenbrenner says she was pleasantly surprised at the how smooth the insurance reimbursement process was after she went home. The billing department accepted the insurance coverage she and her husband shared from a teaching stint in Alaska some years back, no questions asked.

She since has taken groups of her students on tours of the hospital and even gotten some of them to serve as volunteers.

Several of Aschenbrenner’s friends have also made use of the hospital’s surgical and physical therapy services, she adds. “I think the word is getting out.”

These days, Aschenbrenner and her husband have traded in her ATV for a Suzuki Samurai for a safer backwoods riding experience. “I don't even leave without a helmet,” she says. “It really opened my eyes..”

If there was a silver lining in the accident, she says, it was the care she received at SRMC. “For a negative experience,” she says. “It was a positive.”