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THURS: Downwinders in D.C. lobby House to pass compensation for radiation exposure, + More

Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinder Consortium, holds up a picture of her niece who has been diagnosed with cancer. Cordova says her niece represents the fifth generation in their family to develop cancer due to the nuclear weapon testing in New Mexico.
Office of Senator Ben Ray Lujan
Tina Cordova, co-founder of the Tularosa Basin Downwinder Consortium, holds up a picture of her niece who has been diagnosed with cancer. Cordova says her niece represents the fifth generation in their family to develop cancer due to the nuclear weapon testing in New Mexico.

Downwinders in D.C. lobbying House to pass compensation for radiation exposure - Santa Fe New Mexican, KUNM News

A coalition of radiation victims is hoping to put a human face on the grim aftermath of a nuclear era as they press congressional leaders to broaden compensation for exposure.

As the Santa Fe New Mexican reports, a group of Downwinders, former uranium workers and bereaved family members is in the U.S. Capitol this week to urge Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson to call a vote on a bipartisan bill to expand who’s eligible for compensation under federal law.

The bill, which passed the Senate in a 69-30 vote, has stalled in the House because Republican leaders think it’s too costly.

It would enable New Mexico residents to receive federal compensation for exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear tests — including the atomic bomb detonated at the Trinity Site in the Southern New Mexico desert during the Manhattan Project — and uranium mining after 1971.

Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández wrote in a statement, “Republicans have concerns about the price tag of the bill, but remember, the nuclear program incurred these costs already.”

The clock is ticking to extend and expand the existing program. It is set to expire June 7, and Congress will recess in the last week of May and return in early June.

Journalist arrested during clearing of UNM encampment - By Nash Jones, KUNM News 

While clearing the pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of New Mexico Wednesday, UNM and State Police arrested seven people, charging them with criminal trespass and wrongful use of public property. Among them was journalist Bryant Furlow, who regularly publishes with New Mexico In Depth, and his wife, photographer Tara Armijo-Prewitt.

In a statement released by New Mexico In Depth, Furlow said Armijo-Prewitt has been documenting the campus protests “for weeks” and that he joined her Wednesday, “As a journalist interested in possibly reporting” on the law enforcement operation.

He said he took steps to identify himself as a reporter, including asking officers where members of the media were permitted to stand, which he said was not answered. He said he also asked if a public information officer was available to speak with, which there was not.

Furlow said he and his wife followed police instructions and stayed behind a police tape line. Despite this, police arrested them “while photographing the operation.” During his arrest, Furlow said he “repeatedly and loudly” announced he was a member of the press.

Both have since been released from the Metropolitan Detention Center. They intend to fight the criminal charges against them.

When asked about Furlow’s arrest, UNM spokesperson Cinnamon Blair said he was arrested for the same reason the six other people were arrested — for failing to leave the encampment despite repeated warnings.

Budget committee meets one last time to tackle the mayor’s big buck budget - Carolyn Carlson, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Get your popcorn ready to watch some municipal excitement.

The Committee of the Whole will meet on May 16 for members to pull out their red pens to mark up the mayor’s $1.4 billion proposed budget for fiscal year 2025.

This is the last meeting scheduled before the final budget will be presented at the May 20 regular meeting.

The public is welcome to watch but there will be no comments taken at this meeting. There have been two prior meetings where public comment was taken on the proposed budget.

At the meeting, all nine council members will act as a committee to consider and change the mayor’s proposed budget.


When: 5 p.m. May 16

Where: Vincent E. Griego Chambers at Albuquerque City Hall, located at 1 Civic Plaza

Virtual: Click here for the link to the agenda and to watch the meeting.

As Gallup hospital tries to mend financial wounds, it faces a $68 million judgment - Patrick Lohmann, Source New Mexico

State lawmakers seeking to help rural hospitals stay afloat heard a cautionary tale Wednesday of a Gallup hospital that is millions of dollars in debt, unable to pay its employees, and staring down a massive malpractice judgment.

Bill Patten, interim CEO of Rehoboth-McKinley Christian Hospital, told members of the Legislative Finance Committee that he believes the hospital is finally heading toward solvency after years of scandal and financial shortfalls. Doing so required cash infusions from city and county governments to make payroll, plus a special earmark in the state budget passed this year.

But one wildcard is whether the hospital will be on the hook for a 2019 medical malpractice lawsuit, he said, given that the hospital’s insurance only covers about half of the $68 million judgment a jury awarded earlier this year.

“One of the things that I can’t talk very much about, but I don’t want to leave the elephant in the room, is the big lawsuit,” Patten told lawmakers. “We’re working closely with our attorney to try and get this resolved within the limits of our insurance.”

The judgment is one of the biggest in state history, the plaintiff’s lawyer Ray Vargas Jr. said in a recent interview. It comes as the hospital racked up operating losses averaging about $15 million the last three fiscal years, according to Bitten’s testimony.

Meanwhile, the hospital owes $4 million to McKinley County for rent on the hospital it leases, plus about $1.7 million to the city for utilities, $5 million to a staffing company and $2.5 million to a computer vendor, Bitten said. That’s not to mention “several other companies” the hospital owes more than $1 million to, he said.

“So, that’s sort of the financial situation,” Bitten said to sum up the difficulties the hospital faces as part of his presentation to the LFC, which was meeting in Gallup to hear testimony on rural hospital challenges and oversight.

Bitten said the hospital and legal team will meet today to discuss its options for appeal in the malpractice case.

Apart from Gallup Indian Medical Center, RMCH is the only medical provider for the town of 20,000 people and others within a 60-mile radius in northwestern New Mexico.


A jury awarded the judgment — which has received little publicity — after a Gallup man who is the caretaker of three children sought treatment for a hernia at RMCH and suffered complications in 2018, according to court records.

Vargas said a doctor convinced his client he could perform a hernia surgery there at the small hospital, instead of referring him to Albuquerque or a bigger hospital elsewhere. A complication during surgery resulted in an infection that led to the patient getting sicker and sicker for days as medical staff did nothing, Vargas said.

By the time the patient was rushed to Albuquerque, he was almost dead from septic shock, Vargas said. The patient survived but his health still suffers today, his lawyer said.

In its verdict, the jury awarded the patient and his family $50 million in punitive damages, $15 million in compensatory damages and $1 million apiece for the three children dependent on the patient, according to court records

Vargas said the judgment is, to his knowledge as a longtime medical malpractice lawyer in New Mexico, the second-biggest in state history.

In the legislative session that wrapped up in mid-February, lawmakers did not consider a bill that would have capped the amount available to those who died or suffered injuries due to medical malpractice by hospitals, or outpatient facilities overseen by hospitals.


RMCH has been struggling financially since before the coronavirus pandemic, when the Navajo Nation was the epicenter of the virus for several months in mid-2020 and the hospital was flooded with patients. Then-CEO David Conejo, was fired in June 2020, and an audit by State Auditor Brian Colón raised questions about his compensation and a no-bid contract awarded to a board trustee.

In August 2020, the hospital board hired Community Hospital Consulting, a company based out of Plano, Texas, to take over management and placed a senior vice president there, Don Smithburg, as interim CEO the following month. He said at the time he inherited a “perilous” financial situation due to previous mismanagement and suspension of elective procedures during the height of the pandemic.

In October, doctors formed a union at the hospital, citing what they said was a culture of fear and intimidation that resulted in firings or resignations of long-time employees and the closure of the hospital’s labor and delivery unit.

Since then, the hospital has replaced Smithburg with Patten, who came out of retirement after running the hospital in Taos, and, earlier this month, replaced CHC with a new company, Ovation, Patten said.

To make ends meet, the hospital also received at least $6 million from the county and city to pay employees since last year. Still, the hospital was on the “verge of collapse” in December, said Sen. George Muñoz (D-Gallup), chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

Muñoz said he convinced lawmakers and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham to approve $12 million earlier this year in the state budgetto cover “shortfalls” at the hospital.

The investment put “money back in to get you out of debt so these numbers turn from red to black,” he told Patten on Wednesday. “They may not be large, black numbers, but they’ll be in the black.”

Patten noted a few bright spots for the hospital in an otherwise bleak picture: It has recently increased hiring, including of former employees, and it is increasing revenue by offering more elective procedures. The hospital will begin offering cataract surgery today, for example.


While RMCH might be an extreme case, a report by the LFC found that government spending will comprise nearly three-quarters of hospital revenues in 2025. The reliance on taxpayer money raises questions about their “financial viability,” according to an LFC report, while also affording the state more opportunity to hold them accountable for mismanagement or poor patient care.

The report also found that rural hospitals across New Mexico were worse off financially than those in urban areas. A majority of statewide hospitals that suffered net losses in 2022 were nonurban, according to the report.

Lawmakers this session passed several bills aimed at improving operations at rural hospitals and protecting them from being mined for profit. The Health Care Consolidation Oversight Act, for example, gives the state oversight of hospital acquisitions, and the Health Care Delivery and Access Act structures Medicaid payments to provide greater benefits to rural hospitals.

Muñoz thanked his colleagues for bailing out RMCH but also stressed the importance of maintaining viable health care options across the state for the benefit of rural and urban residents alike.

“If we don’t get the rural hospitals fixed, we’re going to be at your hospitals knocking at your front door,” he said, referring to urban hospitals, “taking the services out of your community, either by a $70,000 airplane flight, or a two-hour trip to Albuquerque, or wherever it is across the state to try to get those services.”

State officials not planning to test wastewater in New Mexico for avian flu - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico 

Experts around the country have called on federal officials to use wastewater testing for the avian influenza strain H5N1, which has broken out in more than 33 dairies across eight states, including New Mexico.

While there are only two documented cases of viral crossover to humans documented in the U.S. since 2022, scientists said that wastewater testing is a crucial tool in watching for emerging threats to public health, including avian flu.

Marc Johnson, a virologist at the University of Missouri, developed a probe to track avian flu in wastewater over a year ago, as he was concerned about avian flu spread in U.S. birds in 2022.

“What wastewater does is gives you an unbiased readout of a community. It will tell you what is circulating, whether it’s showing up in the clinic or not,” he said.

Testing for virus material in wastewater is often cheaper than commercial tests, because states are already collecting the samples, and it just means adding an additional test. He said the federal government or other health agencies could implement a probe and test for H5N1 in sewage. The fact that it has spread so widely in cows before, is cause for concern.

“I just want to know where we’re at. I am astounded that this got this far, and no one noticed,” Johnson said.

The H5N1 probe is currently not being used in his job, which includes wastewater surveillance for SARC-coV-2 and other influenza strains in wastewater in Missouri.

Instead, many communities are using flu probes, which would pick up all variants of Influenza A, including the specific avian flu strain H5N1. But that means even if detected, avian flu would be indistinguishable from other strains.

Without more specific testing, health officials “don’t know whether the signal was actually H5N1 or something else,” Johnson explained.

There’s a need to know how widespread avian influenza is, he said, and the current plan isn’t cutting it.

“Since we’ve already demonstrated our lack of ability to track this lineage using our standard surveillance, it seems prudent to expand the other types of surveillance,” Johnson said.

New Mexico health officials have no plans to implement further wastewater testing for H5N1, said State Public Health Veterinarian Erin Phipps with the Department of Health.

New Mexico has not been asked to be involved in any wastewater-testing plans for avian flu at this point, Phipps said, “although I am aware of many conversations happening amongst many different entities about wastewater.”

There is no standardized probe for avian flu, yet. Researchers from Baylor College of Medicine and University of Texas Health Sciences Center published preliminary findings using their own probe last week. They found H5N1 in wastewater samples from nine Texas cities.

“A variant analysis suggests avian or bovine origin but other potential sources, especially humans, could not be excluded,” the study stated. The data still needs peer-review.

Johnson, who is not involved with the Texas study, said there’s still more to learn from testing for the avian flu in wastewater.

“Most sewersheds in the United States are closed, and you don’t get a lot of wild bird feces in the sewage. But the concern that probes are detecting milk that’s been poured down the drain, or dairy byproducts, is legitimate,” he said. “You won’t know whether it’s circulating in humans or not just from wastewater.”

After several days’ delay, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention launched adashboard Tuesday, showing national wastewater data for Influenza A, since the past two weeks have shown higher levels of Influenza A in wastewater.

The data can’t tell us specifically how much of that is caused by the bird flu strain H5N1, which is currently indistinguishable from other types of Influenza A.

New Mexico has insufficient data to make any determination on Influenza A levels, according to the dashboard.


The state has set up additional personal protective equipment for farmworkers in Curry County — where eight herds were confirmed to have been infected by avian flu — as well as in public health offices and the New Mexico State University Extension Office.

Local offices in Curry and Roosevelt counties were also supplied with tests for workers, as well as antiviral treatments for any positive cases.

Anyone who’s been exposed or had contact with an animal that is suspected or confirmed to have avian flu and has symptoms could be tested quickly, Phipps said.

While risk to the general public is still low, she said, people who come in close contact with birds or cows have a higher risk. If experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms and conjunctivitis — that’s a reddening of eyes — they can reach the department, she said, and test for avian flu. 

Texas man accused of killing New Mexico women and kidnapping an infant faces federal charge - Associated Press

A Texas man accused of fatally shooting two New Mexico women and taking one of their children and seriously injuring another is now facing a federal kidnapping charge.

Alek Isaiah Collins, 26, appeared Tuesday before a federal judge in Abilene, Texas. He will remain in federal custody pending extradition to New Mexico, where he already faces state charges of first-degree murder in the deaths of Samantha Cisneros and Taryn Allen, both 23.

The women's bodies were found May 3 in a park near Clovis, New Mexico, which is close to the Texas border. Authorities also discovered Cisneros' 5-year-old daughter had been critically wounded and that her 10-month-old daughter was missing.

That kicked off a frantic search. With little to go on, investigators used cell phone records, surveillance video from stores in Clovis and a piece of a broken mirror from a vehicle to track down Collins in Texas.

The girl was found with Collins three days later. Authorities said she was unharmed.

Authorities have said a motive for the shootings and kidnapping remains unclear as Collins isn't related to any of the victims.

District Attorney Quentin Ray told The Associated Press in an email that the investigation is ongoing.

"The community is heartbroken over the loss of these two vibrant lives and is concerned for the health of the 5-year-old girl," Ray said. "We have seen an outpouring of love, concern and compassion for the families, in addition to overwhelming gratitude to the law enforcement entities who rescued the baby so quickly and put the alleged perpetrator behind bars."

A public defender who is representing Collins has not returned messages seeking comment.

According to filings in both state and federal court, Collins rented a car in Texas and drove 270 miles (435 kilometers) to Clovis on May 3. The cell phone records obtained by investigators showed Collins was in the vicinity of the park around the time of the shootings and the kidnapping.

Evidence recovered from the scene included bullet casings and the piece of broken mirror from the vehicle that Collins had rented. Surveillance video showed a car — its license plate matching that of the rental car — with a broken mirror in a fast food drive-thru in Clovis.

Authorities said Collins failed to return the rental car on time and it was remotely disabled by the owner after Collins returned to Texas.

Abilene police preparing to execute a search warrant at a home where Collins was staying reported seeing him carjack an SUV at gunpoint on May 6. They stopped the vehicle, arrested Collins and found the baby girl safe in a rear passenger seat.

US border arrests fall in April, bucking usual spring increase as Mexico steps up enforcement - Associated Press

Arrests for illegally crossing the U.S. border from Mexico fell more than 6% in April to the fourth lowest month of the Biden administration, authorities said Wednesday, bucking the usual spring increase.

U.S. officials have largely attributed the decline to more enforcement in Mexico, including in yards where migrants are known to board freight trains. Mexico won't allow more than 4,000 illegal crossings a day to the U.S., Alicia Barcena, Mexico's foreign relations secretary, told reporters Tuesday, down from more than 10,000 Border Patrol arrests on some days in December.

Migrants were arrested 128,884 times in April, down from 137,480 in March and barely half a record-high of 249,737 in December, U.S. Customs and Border Protection said. While still historically high, the sharp decline in arrests since late December is welcome news for President Joe Biden on a key issue that has nagged him in election-year polls.

San Diego became the busiest of the Border Patrol's nine sectors along the Mexican border for the first time since the 1990s with 37,370, replacing Tucson, Arizona.

Troy Miller, Customs and Border Protection's acting commissioner, said more enforcement, including deportations, and cooperation with other countries resulted in lower numbers.

"As a result of this increased enforcement, southwest border encounters have not increased, bucking previous trends. We will remain vigilant to continually shifting migration patterns," he said.

Authorities granted entry to 41,400 people in April at land crossings with Mexico through an online appointment app called CBP One, bringing the total to more than 591,000 since it was introduced in January 2023.

The U.S. also allows up to 30,000 Cubans, Haitians, Nicaraguans and Venezuelans if they apply online with a financial sponsor and arrive on commercial flights. About 435,000 entered the country that way through April, including 91,000 Cubans, 166,700 Haitians, 75,700 Nicaraguans and 101,200 Venezuelans.