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MON: VA proposal to close rural health clinics spurs opposition, + More

Terry Ross
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VA proposal to close rural health clinics spurs opposition - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has released a list of community-based clinics that it proposes to close in New Mexico and other rural areas around the country as part of a years-long process aimed at modernizing the department and streamlining its infrastructure.

Some members of Congress vowed immediate opposition Monday, saying the clinics provide the only access to care for thousands of veterans.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, said the analysis done by the VA has flaws, including that it was based on data collected before the coronavirus pandemic put a strain on health care systems in New Mexico and elsewhere. He said many providers have disappeared over the last years, leaving a void.

There are four clinics in New Mexico that are on the list, with three of them serving predominantly Native American and Hispanic populations in areas that are typically underserved. They are in Gallup, Las Vegas, Española and Raton.

"I have no intention of seeing these four clinics close. They're just too damn important to veterans in New Mexico," Heinrich said during an interview.

Heinrich spoke with Secretary of Veterans Affairs Denis McDonough on Monday, while Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández fired off a letter to the secretary in an effort to make their case early in what will be a multi-year process.

The recommendations will be considered by a special commission that is being nominated now. The commission will conduct public hearings as part of its review before submitting its own recommendations to the president for consideration in 2023.

In visiting with constituents from rural New Mexico, Leger Fernández said she has heard how hard it is to get care.

"The commission clearly fails to understand that in our rural areas targeted for closures, there are insufficient health care providers in the community," she said. "Even more troubling is that these recommendations contradict the VA's own findings from the local veteran stakeholder listening sessions it conducted as part of the report. This appears to say that the VA listened, but didn't hear."

Regional VA officials briefed state officials ahead of the release of the report, saying the document recommends closing VA facilities in areas of the country with declining populations or usage. That includes in the Northeast, Midwest, and parts of the rural West.

McDonough said in a statement posted on the VA's website that the agency came to the recommendations by asking what would be best for veterans. He added that the agency spent several weeks talking with VA employees, unions, state partners, veteran service organizations and members of Congress.

Regional VA officials said the recommendations in the report are open for debate.

Sexual assault and harassment linked to higher long-term heart attack risk in women - By Lissa Knudsen, Source New Mexico

Women who have experienced sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment are at higher long-term risk of developing high blood pressure and heart disease, a new study shows.

The study, published last month in the Journal of the American Heart Association, analyzed data from one of the largest investigations into risk factors for major chronic disease in women ever done by the National Institutes of Health.

Over 33,000 women with no history of hypertension were assessed in 2008 about their exposure to sexual violence and other trauma. The women, who were mostly white, middle-aged nurses, were contacted again over a seven-year followup period and asked about their blood pressure levels.

The medical records revealed about one in five of the women had developed high blood pressure, with the highest risk being for women who had experienced sexual trauma in their work and private lives.


Gail Starr, R.N. clinical coordinator at the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program in Albuquerque, said these findings don’t surprise her. SANE provides support and treatment, including medical and forensic exams for sexual assault victims.

“Almost everyone coming in with domestic violence has anxiety, depression, and sometimes they’re on blood pressure medications,” Starr said.

Starr attributes the changes in blood pressure to the body’s reactions to stress over a long period of time.

“Cortisol —the hormone that is released in times of stress — is very powerful at getting us moving, getting us activated, getting us going, but long-term, cortisol just wreaks havoc on our system,” Starr said.

Cortisol is linked with long term autoimmune diseasesand high levels of blood pressure.

These findings are consistent with other trauma studies that show that children who experience adverse childhood experiences are also at risk for increased rates of heart disease.

Sexual violence is a major public health problem in New Mexico with serious long-term physical and mental health consequences that disproportionately impact young people.

Nearly 40% (or an estimated 296,000) of women in New Mexico experience some form of sexual violence during their lifetime, according to NM’s Indicator Based Information System. This is nearly 10% higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Starr said the way our culture deals with sex is part of the reason the effects of these traumatic events are so profound and lifelong.

“What I see so often is that people are surrounded by people in their life who dismiss it, don’t believe them, and question if this was even really something that happened,” Starr said.

Starr said this societal diminishing of the problem also manifests in the survivors’ perceptions of what happened, which can lead to long-term stress and anguish.

“The victims themselves come forward and say ‘This happened to me, but was I raped enough to warrant this being called rape?’” Starr said.

This type of self-doubt and shame leads to years of stress, she added, but research has shown that in most cases the victims were actually incapable of responding in a more cognitive way while the assault was occurring.

Without effective treatment and therapy, Starr said, many people who have experienced sexual assault or sexual harassment feel shame about the way they handled the situation.

Shame can be a psychological way to regain a sense of control, she said, but that kind of thinking releases cortisol into the body, causing the cascading effects that lead to increased hypertension and ultimately cardiovascular disease.


Dr. Mark Bienviarz, an interventional cardiologist with New Mexico Heart Institute at Lovelace Medical Center, said this study illuminated how prevalent sexual assault is in our society and that it’s important for providers to be on the lookout for patients with histories of sexual violence.

“I think that should make us as physicians very sensitive to the fact that it’s an incredibly common problem,” he said.

Bienviarz also highlighted that the primary provider shortage and encouraged the state to continue to bolster mental health services, specifically post-sexual trauma counseling.

“Mental health care — that would improve the availability for counseling and also to point women who’ve been subjected to chronic trauma towards health care — is still a need of our state,” he said.

Gaps in care are hitting those who live in rural and poor areas the most, he added.

“Improved services are really needed in some areas,” he said.

Rebecca Lawn, epidemiologist and lead researcher on the study, said that these findings confirm previous research and suggest that in addition to increased screening, even more resources must be put into sexual assault and harassment prevention.

“We must prevent sexual assault and workplace sexual harassment against women, and this is critical in its own right,” Lawn said. “In doing so, we may also benefit women’s cardiovascular health.”

Albuquerque police investigate deadly shooting – Associated Press

Albuquerque police officers shot and killed a suspect after responding to reports of a shooting on the city's northeast side in which two people were injured and a woman was found dead on a street in a residential area, authorities said.

Police Chief Harold Medina said Monday two officers also were hurt while exchanging gunfire with the suspect, but their injuries were not life-threatening. One officer was hit by shotgun pellets below his protective vest, and the other was grazed above the eye.

Authorities had cordoned off a neighborhood as they warned residents to stay indoors and advised drivers to keep away while officers searched the area.

Medina said officers found one person with a gunshot wound when they arrived on the scene around 2:30 p.m. They heard shots nearby and made their way up the street to find another person who was injured and one woman who suffered a fatal gunshot wound.

Medina said the male suspect was killed following an altercation with officers. He said multiple officers fired their weapons and will be placed on standard leave while the case is investigated.

Investigators planned to work through the night to piece together what led to the violence and whether the suspect knew the victims.

Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller said during a briefing that it marked another example of gun violence in the city, which marked a record number of homicides in 2021.

Election audit prompts pushback from New Mexico auditor - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

The state auditor is the latest top Democratic official to push back against an independent audit of the 2020 election in one rural New Mexico county, as questions about irregularities and fraud continue to circulate in more conservative pockets across the U.S.

State Auditor Brian Colón's office sent a letter Monday to Otero County commissioners saying the county is deficient in its ability to properly oversee contract compliance, pointing specifically to a recent contract signed with the private company it hired to review election records.

The letter also stated that the audit isn't in the best interest of residents and amounts to political grandstanding.

"It appears that the County Commission failed to treat their government position as a public trust and instead used the powers and resources of their public office to waste public resources in pursuit of private interests concerning unsubstantiated claims of widespread election fraud," the letter reads.

County Commissioner Couy Griffin was quick to address the letter's allegations. If the state has nothing to hide, he said there would be no harm in following through with the audit.

"The state wants to say that they have done audits on our election, but in my opinion that is like the criminal heading the investigation," Griffin told The Associated Press, saying he did not trust the secretary of state and only becomes more suspicious as New Mexico politicians apply more pressure on the county to stop the audit.

Nearly a year and a half after the 2020 election, the U.S. continues to grapple with claims surrounding President Joe Biden's win. Ballot reviews have been conducted across the country, from Arizona's Maricopa County to Fulton County, Pennsylvania.

In Wisconsin, a former state Supreme Court justice examining the 2020 election in that battleground state laid out his interim findings just weeks ago and recommended that legislators consider decertifying that state's presidential result — a move attorneys have said is illegal.

An Associated Press review of votes cast in battleground states contested by former President Donald Trump also found too few cases of fraud to affect the outcome.

In conservative-leaning Otero County, Griffin said door-to-door canvassing has turned up cases in which the people who voted did not live at the addresses provided. A ballot scan also is being conducted.

"I can honestly say I don't have skin in this deal. I just want to be able to sleep at night knowing that there's not fraud happening," Griffin said. "The question of fraud is not going to go away until we have independent audits at the county level. That's all we're trying to do — find out the truth."

Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, New Mexico's top election regulator, issued a warning about the audit last week. She told residents to be wary of what she called intrusive questions and potential intimidation by door-to-door canvassers.

The commission in January authorized a $49,750 contract for a countywide review of election records and voter registration information linked to the 2020 general election. They accepted a proposal from EchoMail — one of the contractors hired by Arizona's Republican-controlled state Senate to review election results in Maricopa County.

Though Trump won nearly 62% of the vote in Otero County in 2020, county commissioners have said they are not satisfied with assurances of an accurate midterm election in 2022 by their county clerk or results of the state's risk-limiting audit.

The state auditor's office pointed to three audits done by the county clerk after the 2020 election, saying no inaccuracies were noted and that the error rate between hand counting and machine counting ballots was so low that no additional testing was needed.

State pulls staff off compiling COVID numbers, plans to remove and obscure some info – By Austin Fisher, Source New Mexico

Starting Monday, it will be more difficult to find daily data on the pandemic maintained by the New Mexico Department of Health.

The daily COVID-19 updates will no longer be available broken down by county, officials said.

A staple information source for two years now, the daily county-level updates have long been how the public understood the pandemic. The info was also the basis of public health protections and rules, according to officials, until recently.

Data will no longer be compiled by Health Department staff or sent out to the press each day.

The information won’t be quite the same either. The state is moving to a new way of reporting the data that mimics the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, acting Health Secretary Dr. David Scrase said at a Friday afternoon news conference.

The process will be automated, Scrase said. The automated daily reports will contain case counts, hospitalizations, how many people are on respirators, deaths and some test results.

DOH will no longer report the test positivity rate at all, he added. To find that rate, Scrase said, someone would need to do the math themselves by taking the number of new cases and dividing by the number of positive tests to get the positivity rate at any given time, he said.

There will be a fresh update every weekday, Monday through Friday, at 2 p.m. barring holidays. The epidemiology report page is here on the DOH website.


The state will still be releasing county-level data on a weekly basis, Scrase said, as part of a more detailed weekly report.

“There will be, soon, a county report that translates the CDC data into green, yellow or orange for the counties, per the CDC guidelines,” he said.

Seven-day averages are more accurate than daily counts, he said, and therefore more useful to individuals.


It took 80 human hours per day to produce every update and news release, Scrase said.

Instead of manually putting together the reports, he said those Health Department employees will be “going back to their real jobs that they had, managing a lot of other really important parts of what the Department of Health does.”

That includes efforts to combat substance use disorder and track other vaccinations. Those employees also can go back to providing regular health care at department offices and clinics, or making in-person visits to hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities. They’ll also resume getting people off the Developmental Disabilities Waiver waiting list and into services, he said.

“We will have access to more detailed data, but we have a Department of Health to run and a whole bunch of other issues of the health of New Mexicans,” Scrase said. “So we’re going to be moving away from very intensive, manual press releases. We’re excited not only to have more automation in the process but also get back to our other work in the Department of Health.”

Suspect who wielded gun outside Santa Fe cafe still at large – Santa Fe New Mexican, Associated Press

Authorities are searching for a man who pulled out a gun at a Santa Fe restaurant when he was denied a free cup of coffee.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the shooting happened Saturday at Cafe Pasqual's while customers were present.

According to the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, the suspect was charged for coffee that he was used to getting free. Restaurant staff said he left but returned. He then climbed on top of furniture outside the cafe and showed the gun.

Employees and customers hid in the kitchen.

When deputies arrived, both the suspect and customers had fled.

The Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office is asking for any witnesses to come forward.

When reached Sunday, a manager at Cafe Pasqual declined to comment.

Oil companies join fight against US nuclear waste facilities - Associated Press

Oil companies operating in the most active oilfield in the United States are the latest opponents of plans to store spent nuclear fuel from commercial power plants in the Permian Basin.

Federal regulators already have granted a license for one interim storage project in West Texas, and developers are awaiting approval for a similar facility in southeastern New Mexico.

Tommy Taylor, chairman of the Permian Basin Coalition, said in a recent statement that rising gas prices and global tensions involving Russia — one of the world's largest oil producers — should be a concern.

"Gas prices are soaring and families are struggling to pay bills," Taylor said. "Yet the federal government wants to keep America's energy producers on the sidelines by keeping oil and gas production low, and to make matters worse, they are putting America and our allies at risk by proposing to store high-level nuclear waste in America's most productive oil field."

The coalition has called on Congress to include language to block the storage projects in the federal omnibus spending package, the Carlsbad Current-Argus reported.

The coalition's members include Shell Oil Company, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and dozens of Texas cities, counties and chambers of commerce.

The Nuclear Regulator Commission recently granted a license to Waste Control Specialists for a storage facility in Andrews, Texas. They're still considering an application by Holtec International for a similar facility just to the west of the state line in New Mexico.

Both facilities would see thousands of metric tons of spent fuel shipped into Texas and New Mexico from nuclear power plants around the country for temporary storage pending development of a permanent repository.

Critics, including top elected officials from Texas and New Mexico, have voiced concerns because the federal government lacks any plans for a permanent resting place for the radioactive waste.

U.S. Sens. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico and Ted Cruz of Texas recently introduced legislation aimed at banning federal funding from supporting such a site.

Dozens of environmental groups and nuclear watchdogs also have outlined their concerns about the projects in comments to the U.S. Energy Department.

Teen cadet at New Mexico Military Institute reported missing - Associated Press

Authorities were continuing to search Sunday for a missing cadet from the New Mexico Military Institute.

New Mexico State Police said 15-year-old Peyton Brynn Scarff of Roswell was last seen on campus around 3 p.m. Wednesday and was in her uniform.

Police with the Military Institute were asking the public for information to help find Scarff.

Authorities said it's still unclear if the teen is a runaway from the public military school that is a four-year high school and two-year junior college.

Man who helped thwart attempted kidnapping killed in crash - Associated Press

An 18-year-old Las Cruces man who was hailed as a hero for helping thwart a 2020 attempted kidnapping and assault has died in a motorcycle crash, police said.

Canaan Bower was killed Wednesday when his motorcycle collided with a car making a turn, police said Thursday in a statement.

Bower was a 16-year-old high school wrestler when he body-slammed a man who allegedly punched a woman at a bus stop and demanded she turn over her three children to him.

Bower intervened and held the man for sheriff's deputies.

The March 25, 2020 incident drew national attention, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Bower was selected as the USA Wrestling Athlete of the week, in recognition of his bravery, and the New Mexico State Senate proclaimed him as a hero.

Bower was recognized by Doña Ana County with a proclamation, honoring his courage, bravery and heroism, and naming that day as the Canaan Bower day of Valor.

His mother, Kara Garrett Bower, said on social media that the family was overwhelmed with sadness.

"Canaan lived life to the fullest, and loved with his whole heart. He will be forever missed," she said.

New Mexico health official mark two years of pandemic - By Susan Montoya Bryan Associated Press

New Mexico's top health official observed a moment of silence Friday in remembrance of the 7,050 people who have died in the state since the pandemic began.

Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase marked the two-year anniversary of New Mexico's first confirmed COVID-19 infections during a virtual briefing with reporters, noting that new infections and hospitalizations have dropped dramatically in recent weeks.

Still, he said COVID-19 is a serious disease and the state is making plans to ensure it will be prepared in the event of another surge caused by a new variant. He described it as a "constant state of readiness."

"We don't know what's going to happen next. We don't know what to expect for sure but we are getting ready," Scrase said, pointing to the experience the world had more than a century ago with the influenza pandemic. "You don't know that it's over until it's really over."

It was March 11, 2020, when Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a public health emergency and ordered most state employees to start working from home. She also urged people to avoid traveling or gatherings to slow the spread of the virus.

Her declaration followed confirmation of the first COVID-19 infections in the state. Officials at the state health lab had worked through the night to make the determination.

As of today, about 1 in 4 New Mexicans have had a confirmed case.

Of the cases reported over the last four weeks, state data shows 56% of infections have been among those who are vaccinated — including those who have received booster shots. Still, the unvaccinated make up higher percentages when it comes to hospitalizations and death.

While more than 78% of New Mexico adults are vaccinated, the effort to push the number higher has all but stalled and less than half of those who are eligible have received booster shots.

New Mexico has lifted many public health restrictions, including its mask mandate for most public indoor spaces. While school districts can set their own mask policies, the only state-mandated mask requirement still in place is for children returning to school after testing positive and isolating for five days.

As of this week, less than one-quarter of the 149 schools and districts that reported data to the state Public Education Department indicated they were still requiring masks. Education Secretary Kurt Steinhaus said in a statement Friday that he's delighted that declining infection rates have allowed the state to turn more decision-making over to the districts and charter school leaders.

"We've waited a long time — working hard and learning as we went — to get to this point," Steinhaus said. "My greatest hope is we can continue safely learning and teaching in-person."

Scrase said New Mexico's public health order will remain in place as long as the federal emergency designation continues. He explained that people getting federal food assistance or help through other social programs have received more than an extra $1 billion of benefits related to the pandemic.

"We are tied to that federal wagon and will want to maintain those benefits as long as we can," he said.

Scrase also acknowledged that the pandemic has been devastating for many families but there are still things to be thankful for.

"I think many of us have learned new things," he said. "Many of us have grown, many of us have changed, many of us have learned to appreciate when we get that time to spend with family."

Inspired by the river, settlers chose the name Atrisco - By Elaine D. Briseño Albuquerque Journal

A busy street west of the river takes its name from a settlement that existed before Albuquerque was even an idea.

Atrisco Drive — and the Atrisco Land Grant for which it's named — are a monument to the first wave of European immigrants to arrive in New Mexico, the Albuquerque Journal reported.

The grant and the history of its heirs lives on today through the The Atrisco Companies and the Atrisco Heritage Foundation. Albuquerque Public Schools opened a high school on the West Mesa in 2008 and named it Atrisco Heritage in recognition of the area's settlers.

Atrisco Drive starts in the South Valley and travels north, breaking as it passes over Interstate 40 and Coors Boulevard, finally ending close to the Petroglyph National Monument. A drive along the road offers a glimpse of modern-day dwellings, but the area was once home to a colony of people who arrived with Spanish explorer Don Juan de Oñate. These pioneers settled along the western banks of the Rio Grande in 1598 and used the land to farm and raise livestock.

"They were the first non-Native settlers to come to this state," said Peter Sanchez, chief executive officer of The Atrisco Companies. "They were the original immigrants to come to our lands. This was 10 years prior to English landing on the East Coast. It's important to understand the beginnings of our state and how people began to come to our state."

His convoy included mostly Spaniards, but there were also Mexican Indians, Greeks, Africans and Sephardic Jews.

The name Atrisco comes from the Native Náhuatl word "atlixo" or "aixco." Several possible meanings are attributed to the words, including upon the water, on the water, near the waters and the surface of a body of water.

Some suggest that the settlers named the area after their homeland in the Central Valley of Mexico, which was then New Spain. The meaning or reason for the original name may vary, but what is clear is that the early Atrisco people were influenced by their proximity to the river.

"It's a Native term about being near the river," he said. "That name did not exist in Spain at the time."

These people made their lives there at the behest of Oñate, who traveled to New Mexico to establish small Spanish settlements along the Rio Grande in an effort to claim the territory for the king of Spain. Sanchez said the geography of the South Valley made it an ideal location for a settlement.

"It was the largest grass flatland area from Los Lunas to Bernalillo," he said. "It was prime property for growing crops and things like that. The west side of river was chosen because of the sun."

Nearly 100 years later in 1692, Spain granted the colonists a 67,000-acre land grant that spanned from the Rio Puerco in the east to the mesa in the west.

The 1680 Pueblo Revolt had stalled Spanish settlement in the area, but it once again came under control of the Spanish when Don Diego de Vargas succeeded in reoccupying the territory of New Mexico. By 1760, more than 200 people had come to live in what was now known as Villa de Atrisco.

According to The Atrisco Companies' historical records, today there are 50,000 land grant heirs linked to those first settlers. The way of life started by their ancestors began to die out. The grasslands in the middle Rio Grande Valley were depleted by the early 1900s. The industrial revolution also changed the way Americans labored. Farming was no longer the only industry.

The majority of the Atrisco Land Grant was incorporated into Westland Development Co. Inc. in 1967, and the heirs became stockholders. It was a move rebuffed by many heirs, who could trace their roots in the area back 400 years.

One of those was famed author Rudolfo Anaya, who received the shares from his parents. He criticized the move, saying the ancestors would not want them to sell the land and instead had intended it to be used for the social good of the community and future generations.

"The value of my inheritance as represented by my shares means nothing to the stockbrokers of Wall Street," he said in a 1967 Albuquerque Journal op-ed piece. "The value of my shares means everything to me. They are a thread I hold to my history. I would not give them up. I will not put my history and culture for sale on Wall Street."

Ultimately, in 2006, the Atrisco Land Grant landed in the hands of commercial developers. Some heirs still call the South Valley home, living on the land claimed by their ancestors so many years ago, but Albuquerque, Atrisco's larger neighbor to the east, eventually gobbled it up, bringing with it the pressure for commercial growth and development that is seen there today.

Man extradited from Mexico to stay jailed until murder trial - Associated Press

A New Mexico state judge in Roswell has ordered that a man extradited from Mexico remain in jail while awaiting trial in the 2020 strangulation killing of the mother of his young son.

Judge Thomas Lilley on Friday denied bond for Jorge Rico-Ruvira after state and district prosecutors argued that the 34-year-old man was dangerous and that no conditions of release would protect the community.

Rico-Ruvira is charged with murder in the killing of Isela Sanchez, 27.

An Amber Alert was issued for the son when the father fled to Mexico, but officials announced last year that the boy had been found safe.

According to court records, a judge in January appointed temporary kinship guardians for the child.

Rico-Ruvira is also charged with child abuse.

Authorities have alleged that Rico-Ruvira left Sanchez's daughter, who was 7 at the time, alone in the house with the mother's body when he fled with the couple's son.

New Mexico woman found guilty in 2018 double murder - Associated Press

A New Mexico jury has reached a guilty verdict for a female defendant accused of killing her ex-boyfriend with the help of a new boyfriend in 2018.

Prosecutors argued that Cristal Cardenas and Luis Flores tried to hire a hitman to kill the father of Cardenas' daughter, and did it themselves when it didn't work out.

A jury found Cardenas guilty Friday, the Las Cruces Sun-News reports. Cardenas said in the trial that she didn't kill the couple, and her lawyer argued it could have been someone else, like a drug gang.

Cardenas' ex, Mario Cabral, and his girlfriend, Venessa Mora Rodriguez, were shot dead at their home in Garfield, a town in the southern part of the state.

Mora Rodriguez' daughter testified that she heard the gunshots and found them dead.

Flores, accused of firing the shots that killed the couple, faces a trial scheduled for April.