Tuesday News Roundup: VA Officials Confirm 21 Patients Died While Waiting To See Doctor

Jun 10, 2014

VA Officials Address Wait Times For NM VeteransThe Associated Press

Officials with the Veterans Affairs health care system in New Mexico say they have identified at least 21 people who died while waiting to see a doctor amid an investigation into lapses in care.

Authorities have not determined whether any of the deaths were related to a lack of care. They said Tuesday during a news conference that each case is being reviewed in detail to determine the circumstances.

The officials acknowledge the findings of a national audit show there are problems with wait times, but the New Mexico VA system has been working for more than a year to address the issues.

Dr. Meghan Gerety says there are no wait times for primary care and the VA is holding open clinics on weekends to reach more vets.

Albuquerque Ordered To Pay $6M For Police ShootingThe Associated Press

A New Mexico judge has ordered the city of Albuquerque to pay more than $6 million in connection with the wrongful death of a man with schizophrenia killed by Albuquerque police.

District Court Judge Shannon Bacon ruled Tuesday that officers were not acting in self-defense when they punched and shot 27-year-old Christopher Torres in 2011 in his yard.

Bacon also wrote the use of deadly force violated Torres' constitutional rights.

The ruling says the officers did not present an arrest warrant for aggravated auto burglary before Torres was shot in the back at close range.

Steve Torres, Christopher's father, says he think the ruling vindicates the family's story that their son was wrongfully killed.

The city is in talks with the U.S. Justice Department over pending police reforms.


Officials Eye 6 Barrels Tied To Nuke Dump LeakThe Associated Press

New Mexico Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn says scientists investigating a radiation leak at the federal government's underground nuclear waste dump have identified five other potentially explosive containers at Los Alamos National Laboratory and a temporary storage site in West Texas.

Flynn told a legislative panel on Tuesday that scientists investigating the February leak from the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant have been unable to replicate the chemical event believed to have caused a drum to breach in February. But he says they have found five other barrels from the same waste stream and are narrowing their focus on those because of their very high acidic content.

He says three of those drums are at Los Alamos and two are at Waste Control Specialists in Andrews, Texas. Flynn says the public should be concerned — but not worried — as proper precautions are being taken.

Feds Declare Western Mouse Endangered - The Associated PressA rare mouse found in New Mexico and two other western states now has protection under the Endangered Species Act, and that's expected to aggravate ongoing battles between the federal government and ranchers over water and property rights in drought-stricken areas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued an order Monday listing the New Mexico meadow jumping mouse as endangered.

The tiny mouse lives along streams and in wet areas in parts of New Mexico, southern Colorado and eastern Arizona. Biologists say the biggest threats are grazing and water use and management.

Regional officials with the U.S. Forest Service have acknowledged they will have to put up fences or take other action to protect water sources for the mouse. Ranchers say that could force them to abandon their grazing allotments.

Albuquerque Police Chief Forbids More DOJ Meetings The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden is forbidding his employees from meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice without his permission.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Eden sent a text message to all employees on Monday. The text message, obtained by the Journal, says officers have been meeting with the DOJ for various reasons and that those meetings should stop immediately.

A dozen or more such unofficial meetings have been held.

Albuquerque police spokeswoman Janet Blair said Eden and his command staff have created a protocol to ensure all communications to the DOJ come from those in the negotiations, including the chief.

The DOJ is expected to issue a draft agreement this week laying a blueprint for police reforms aimed at overhauling how police uses force and holds officers accountable.

Environmental Agency Criticizes Kirtland Proposal - The Associated Press and Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico environmental regulators are criticizing Kirtland Air Force Base's proposal for cleaning up a massive underground fuel leak, saying it would threaten Albuquerque's water supply.

Kirtland's plan centers on using a Kirtland water well to remove fuel-contaminated groundwater to keep it away from a neighborhood where municipal drinking wells are located. The contaminated water then would be treated to meet drinking water standards.

However, the Albuquerque Journal reports that the state Environment Department concluded in a letter that the proposed strategy would help spread the contamination toward the municipal water supply.

A consultant for the metro area's water authority said the Kirtland proposal wouldn't succeed because it wouldn't remove enough water to divert the main flow of contamination.

Democrat Gary King Airs Hard-Hitting TV Ad - The Associated Press

Democrat Gary King is punching back in New Mexico's race for governor with a television ad criticizing Gov. Susana Martinez's record in running state government.

The ad began airing today and is in response to hard-hitting advertising by the Republican Governors Association against the Democratic nominee.

King's ad points out that New Mexico has been losing jobs during Martinez's tenure and says King "will clean up her mess." King backs a minimum wage increase.

King launched the ad as he's looking for a replacement for campaign manager Jim Farrell, who says he wanted to be near his family in Las Cruces and left the job on good terms with King.

King said Farrell did an excellent job. He may hire a campaign manager by the end of the week.

Audit: 1,000-Plus NM Vets Await Initial Visits - The Associated Press and New York Times

The Veterans Affairs Department says more than 1,000 patients in its health care system in New Mexico are still waiting for initial medical appointments 90 days or more after requesting them.

The department yesterday released the findings of an audit of VA hospitals and clinics across the country, including Albuquerque's medical center where officials previously said more than 3,000 patients were assigned to a doctor who didn't actually see them.

The audit says new patients seeking primary care wait an average of 46 days, while those needing specialty care wait nearly two months.

There’s been no mention of the May 29th New York Times report that “...in Albuquerque, an employee at the veterans center said some doctors were shocked when they received a memo a few months ago stating that 20 percent of physician “performance pay” would be doled out only to doctors who found a way to limit patient follow-up visits to an average of two a year — a tactic to reduce waiting times by persuading veterans to make fewer appointments.”

Auditors say New Mexico is among the facilities that require further review.

California Company Bringing Jobs To Las Cruces - The Associated Press

A California tortilla company is expanding to New Mexico.

Gov. Susana Martinez announced Monday that Franco Whole Foods, which supplies tortillas to Whole Foods and Costco, will open a manufacturing facility in Las Cruces that will create 160 jobs with an average salary of $37,000 plus benefits.

With the help of $75,000 in state economic development funds, the company will convert a long-vacant warehouse into a modern manufacturing facility.

Franco Whole Foods was founded by Angel Franco in El Paso. In the 1980s his sons Gus and Mike Franco launched a tortilla manufacturing business in San Diego. Gus developed the uncooked flour tortilla recipe in 1993.

Man Dead After Shooting By Carlsbad Police - The Associated Press and Carlsbad Current-Argus

New Mexico State Police say they're investigating a fatal shooting involving Carlsbad police officers.

State police say 24-year-old Troy Kirkpatrick was shot about 10 a.m. Monday behind the Tia Maria apartment complex.

Prior to the shooting, Kirkpatrick was in custody of the Eddy County Detention Center.

Authorities say Kirkpatrick had a scheduled doctor's appointment and was transported by a detention officer from the detention center.

He assaulted the detention officer, escaped from the doctor's office and stole a vehicle.

After a short pursuit with Carlsbad police, Kirkpatrick crashed into a fence in an alleyway and shots were fired.

The Carlsbad Current-Argus reports that Kirkpatrick was taken to a hospital, where he died of his injuries.

Tribe Sues Federal Agency Over New Mexico Casino - The Associated Press and Santa Fe New Mexican

An Oklahoma-based American Indian tribe which recently won recognition in New Mexico is suing a federal agency in hopes of reopening its casino in southern New Mexico.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the Fort Sill Apache tribe filed suit Monday in U.S. District Court in Washington against the National Indian Gaming Commission.

The tribe closed its Apache Homelands Casino after the commission chairman ruled in 2009 that the tribe was illegally running bingo games at the now-inactive casino in Luna County.

The New Mexico Supreme Court on April 14 ordered Gov. Susana Martinez to recognize the Fort Sill Apache as a New Mexico tribe.

Court Ruling On Vehicle Search Prompts Dissent - The Associated Press

A state Supreme Court ruling has drawn a dissent from a justice who says the decision could undermine New Mexico's constitutional protections against unreasonable searches of automobiles.

Justice Richard Bosson dissented from a court ruling Monday that upheld a warrantless search of a vehicle by Farmington police in 2010.

Bosson disagreed with the court's majority that there were emergency conditions justifying the search of the vehicle's trunk.

He wrote that warrants usually have been required in New Mexico to search locked compartments of an automobile.

Police were responding to a report that someone in the vehicle had pointed a rifle at individuals. The gun was found in the trunk.

But Bosson pointed out the truck was searched after the driver and passengers were in custody and handcuffed.