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MON: Albuquerque city councilors to debate charter changes and immigrant-friendly policy, + More

Albuquerque city hall
Roberto E. Rosales
/
City Desk ABQ
Albuquerque city hall

What to expect: City Councilors to debate charter changes and immigrant friendly policy - Elizabeth McCall, City Desk ABQ 

Proposals to change the city charter and the immigrant friendly policy will dominate the agenda for the Albuquerque City Council meeting on Monday.

Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn told City Desk ABQ the meeting would “quite possibly be the worst council meeting on the planet,” and will be “a long one.”

“There’s just quite a few other pretty controversial things on the air so it’s gonna take a while,” Fiebelkorn said.

CHARTER CHANGES

City Councilors Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Renée Grout introduced four charter amendments that propose changing the city’s majority rules for voting and the appointment and removal of key officials. If the proposed changes are approved, they will be sent to voters in November.

Proposals to change the city charter and the immigrant friendly policy will dominate the agenda for the Albuquerque City Council meeting on Monday.

Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn told City Desk ABQ the meeting would “quite possibly be the worst council meeting on the planet,” and will be “a long one.”

“There’s just quite a few other pretty controversial things on the air so it’s gonna take a while,” Fiebelkorn said.

CHARTER CHANGES

City Councilors Dan Lewis, Klarissa Peña and Renée Grout introduced four charter amendments that propose changing the city’s majority rules for voting and the appointment and removal of key officials. If the proposed changes are approved, they will be sent to voters in November.

Read more about the proposal here.

Mayor Tim Keller has criticized the proposed changes as the “opposite of transparency and efficiency.”

Currently in order to be elected a mayor or city councilor must have at least 50% of the vote or be subject to a run-off election. The proposal would instead require the winner to have at least 40% of the total vote.

The charter currently states that the city clerk and city attorney is appointed by the mayor with the “advice and consent” from two-thirds of the council. This amendment proposes changing that process by adopting a committee that is composed of mayoral and city council appointees to recommend candidates.

Allowing the City Council to remove the Albuquerque Police Department and Albuquerque Fire Rescue chiefs without cause is another item on the charter changes. Currently, the council does have the power to remove a chief with a two-thirds vote but must have a reason.

Read more about the process to fire a police chief here.

The last proposal establishes a way to fill vacancies of a three-member conference committee that resolves disputes between the executive and legislative branches. If either body fails to appoint a member within 45 days the other body will make the appointment.

IMMIGRANT-FRIENDLY POLICY

Another agenda item that will take the hot seat is the city’s immigrant friendly policy. Councilors Brook Bassan and Renée Grout are seeking to reverse the policy so police are allowed to contact federal authorities if an undocumented immigrant is charged, not convicted, with drug offenses or certain violent crimes.

The current policy prohibits police from asking for someone’s proof of immigration status unless it would be important for their investigation.

Read more about the proposed changes to the immigrant friendly policy here.

HOW TO PARTICIPATE:

WHEN: 5 p.m. June 3
WHERE: Vincent E. Griego Chambers in the Albuquerque Government Center, 1 Civic Plaza NW
VIRTUAL: GOV-TV or on the city’s YouTube channel

Biden prepares a tough executive order that would shut down asylum after 2,500 migrants arrive a day - By Seung Min Kim, Stephen Groves And Colleen Long Associated Press

The White House is telling lawmakers that President Joe Biden is preparing to sign off on an executive order that would shut down asylum requests to the U.S.-Mexico border once the number of daily encounters hits 2,500 between ports of entry, with the border reopening once that number declines to 1,500, according to several people familiar with the discussions.

The impact of the 2,500 figure means that the border could be closed to migrants seeking asylum effectively immediately, because daily figures are higher than that now.

The Democratic president is expected to unveil his actions — which mark his most aggressive unilateral move yet to control the numbers at the border — at the White House on Tuesday at an event to which border mayors have been invited.

Five people familiar with the discussions confirmed the 2,500 figure on Monday, while two of the people confirmed the 1,500 number. The figures are daily averages over the course of a week. All of the people insisted on anonymity to discuss an executive order that is not yet public. Other border activity, such as trade, is expected to continue.

Senior White House officials have been informing lawmakers on Capitol Hill of details of the planned order ahead of the formal rollout on Tuesday.

Biden has been deliberating for months to act on his own after bipartisan legislation to clamp down on asylum at the border collapsed at the behest of Republicans, who defected from the deal en masse at the urging of Donald Trump, the former president and presumptive Republican presidential nominee. Biden continued to consider executive action even though the number of illegal crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border has declined for months, partly because of a stepped-up effort by Mexico.

100 years ago, US citizenship for Native Americans came without voting rights in swing states - By Morgan Lee Associated Press

Voter participation advocate Theresa Pasqual traverses Acoma Pueblo with a stack of sample ballots in her car and applications for absentee ballots, handing them out at every opportunity ahead of New Mexico's Tuesday primary.

Residents of the tribal community's original mesa-top "sky city" that endured after the Spanish invasion in the late 1500s know firsthand the challenges voters have faced across Indian Country, where polling places are often hours away and restrictive voter laws and ID requirements only add to the barriers.

It's been a century now since an act of Congress granted citizenship to Native Americans, but advocates say that right bestowed in 1924 still hasn't translated into equal access to the ballot. Inequities are especially pronounced in remote regions across the U.S., and some key Southwestern states with large Native American populations.

New Mexico is trying something new — a test run of sorts for many new and contested provisions that are part of the state's Native American Voting Rights Act that was passed last year. The measure promises tribal communities a greater voice in how and where they can vote, even opening the possibility that tribal offices can be designated as a street address for remote households that have none.

This should help at Acoma, where Pasqual said some residents still do not have standard addresses.

Native Americans in New Mexico — home to 22 federally recognized tribal communities and holdings of an Oklahoma-based tribe — were among the last to gain access to voting, decades after the U.S. extended birthright citizenship to the land's original inhabitants on June 2, 1924 through the Indian Citizenship Act.

That legislation took shape in the aftermath of World War I in which thousands of Native Americans had volunteered to serve overseas in the military.

A patchwork of statutes and treaties already offered about two-thirds of Native Americans citizenship, sometimes in exchange for land allotments that fractured reservations, gestures of assimilation, military service and even the renunciation of tribal traditions. The one-sentence Indian Citizenship Act swept away those requirements in an attempt to grant citizenship to all Native Americans.

At the same time, Congress deferred to state governments qualifications on who qualified to vote. Legal access to the ballot was denied under existing state constitutional provisions and statutes until 1948 in Arizona and New Mexico — and until 1957 on reservations in Utah.

It was by design, said Maurice Crandall, an Arizona State University history professor and citizen of the Yavapai-Apache Nation of Camp Verde. Pointing to the largest Native populations in New Mexico and Arizona, he said: " They don't want a large group of Native people who can swing elections."

Fast forward to 2020, he said, and "many people credit the Native vote with deciding to bring Arizona into the (Joe) Biden camp."

Biden won Arizona by about 10,500 votes, as voter turnout surged on the Navajo and Hopi reservations.

At Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, voting has provided Native Americans with a path to power amid the political rise of pueblo member Deb Haaland. She became one of the first two Native American women in Congress in 2018 before taking the reins of the Interior Department to oversee U.S. obligations to 574 federally recognized tribes.

For the upcoming primary, Laguna is on the front lines of two Democratic contests with first-time female Native American candidates competing in districts that were redrawn in 2021 to increase Native influence. In the general election, eligible voters among 8,000 Laguna residents will cast ballots in a congressional swing district rematch between U.S. Rep. Gabe Vasquez and Republican Yvette Herrell, who lost in 2022 by 1,350 votes. Herrell seldom invokes her Cherokee heritage.

The state's new voting rights legislation for Native Americans provides new tools for tribal communities to request convenient on-reservation voting sites and secure ballot deposit boxes with consultation requirements for county clerks and an appeals process.

But there are still obstacles, said Laguna Pueblo administrator Ashley M. Sarracino, pointing to tensions with county election administrators over a decision to withdraw three Election Day voting sites at the pueblo this year, leaving three open.

In Arizona, the anniversary of the Indian Citizenship Act stirs up frustration among Native American leaders, including Gov. Stephen Lewis of the Gila River Indian Community. He has denounced efforts by the Republican National Committee and state lawmakers to revive and extend voter ID requirements through the 2024 general election.

Two of Lewis' community members sued in 1928 after being turned away from the polls, only to have the Arizona Supreme Court rebuff their case. The community wouldn't realize the right to vote until 1948 — after World War II and the raising of an American flag at Iwo Jima that included Ira Hayes, who was part of the Gila River community.

Lewis during a recent online forum counted the years that passed between the time the U.S. Declaration of Independence was inked and the Indian Citizenship Act was signed. He said elected officials for years have "made laws for us, about us, but never with us."

Native Americans have held widely divergent views about citizenship and voting, said Torey Dolan, a research fellow at the University of Wisconsin Law School and citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. Some view U.S. citizenship as incompatible with being Indigenous people; others see it more like dual citizenship.

With approval of the citizenship act, many Native Americans feared the expansion of U.S. citizenship might undermine the special status of trust land that allows tribes to make their own decisions about tax-exempt land and shield it from speculators.

"It was really seen in many parts of Indian Country as being aimed at breaking down tribal cultures, particularly in the Southwest," said Geoffrey Blackwell, general counsel to the National Congress of American Indians that advocates for Native American rights and sovereignty.

For some, ensuring voting rights was worth the fight. In 1948, Isleta Pueblo member and World War II military veteran Miguel Trujillo challenged the status quo that barred Native Americans in New Mexico from voting by attempting to vote in Valencia County. He was rejected, sparking a landmark lawsuit that was supported by Washington-based federal Indian law pioneer Felix Cohen and the National Congress of American Indians.

A 1956 federal survey of Native voting in the Southwest found anemic participation, with no polling places set up at New Mexico pueblos. In Arizona, Jim Crow-style discrimination set in with widespread application of literacy tests to block Native-language speakers from voting until the practice was barred in 1970 under the federal Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 spurred a new movement within tribal communities to encourage participation, said Laura Harris, the Albuquerque-based director of Americans for Indian Opportunity and a citizen of the Comanche Nation of Oklahoma.

In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that gave the Justice Department election oversight in states with a history of discrimination. Since then, several states have enacted new voting laws that some legal experts say make it unreasonably difficult for Native Americans to vote, including a flurry of restrictions from Republicans enacted in the wake of the 2020 election.

But in New Mexico, the Sandoval County clerk's office has expanded early voting services in recent years for tribal communities. Only one pueblo in the county declined the opportunity this year. Native language interpreters are posted at each of the sites, which are open to all county residents.

Evelyn Sandoval works with the county attorney's office as a liaison to Native Americans. She teaches families how to use newly available tools to register online and receive absentee ballots by mail.

"I'm trying to get them to be self-reliant," said Sandoval, a 54-year-old former oil and gas company worker who was raised Ojo Encino, a Navajo community with fewer than 300 residents. Her mother spoke only Navajo.

___

Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan contributed to this story from Zia Pueblo, New Mexico. AP writer Graham Brewer contributed from Oklahoma City.

As pharmacies shutter, some Western states, Black and Latino communities are left behind - By Tom Murphy And Kasturi Pananjady Associated Press

Opening stores used to mean everything to pharmacy chains.

CVS Health once boasted of opening or buying more than 2,900 locations in a five-year period. Now it's shuttering hundreds, while Walgreens, Rite Aid and independent drugstores also pull back.

An industry that saw waves of store growth before the COVID-19 pandemic faces headwinds like falling prescription reimbursement, persistent theft and changing shopping habits. But as drugstores right-size their physical footprint, experts say they can leave behind communities that have come to depend on them as trusted sources of care and advice — both of which can be hard to find in many urban and rural areas.

"That trust, you just can't quantify it," said Omolola Adepoju, a University of Houston health services researcher. "And I don't think it gets spoken about enough when we talk about pharmacy closures."

There's a pattern to who has access to pharmacies, with gaps forming in urban and rural neighborhoods.

Residents of neighborhoods that are largely Black and Latino have fewer pharmacies per capita than people who live in mostly white neighborhoods, according to an Associated Press analysis of licensing data from 44 states, data from the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs and the American Community Survey. It's consistent with prior research that documents where urban "pharmacy deserts" are more likely to be concentrated.

The AP also analyzed data from 49 states and found those with the fewest retail pharmacies per capita include Alaska, Oregon and New Mexico. About two-thirds of retail pharmacies in those states were owned by chains, while independent pharmacies tend to concentrate more in urban markets or states with bigger populations.

PHARMACY AS A CARE LOCATION

Drugstores have become bigger sources of care in recent years, sometimes by design or necessity — especially for customers who work multiple jobs and can't easily get to a doctor. Many pharmacies, including the two largest chains, offer clinics and more than a dozen vaccines to treat patients. They've also encouraged pharmacists to counsel patients more on managing conditions like diabetes or high blood pressure.

Prakash Patel at Bert's Pharmacy in Elizabeth, New Jersey, said sometimes the pharmacy is a sick customer's "first stop."

"There is no easy access to a doctor's office. You need an appointment. They have limited hours," the store owner and pharmacist said. "So any time any child or adult — whoever is sick — where are they going to go first? To the pharmacy."

In rural areas, drugstores often serve multiple roles for their communities, with pharmacists seeing regular customers more than a doctor does, said Megan Undeberg, a community pharmacy expert at Washington State University. That means they may be the first to notice signs of things like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's disease and suggest the patient seek help.

"You're the smoking cessation counselor, you're the suicide prevention counselor," she said. "You know just about everything about everyone, but it's confidential."

A few weeks before the CVS in Herscher, Illinois, closed in early March, farmer Kip Harms picked up a muscle relaxer for a back injury. He asked the staff if he could take it with Tylenol.

Harms said he'll have other options in the rural area that's nearly 80 miles south of Chicago, but it won't be the same.

"You can stand here and have a conversation," said Harms, 56, from nearby Cullom. "You go to the big giant one where there's 40 people in line, you feel like you're inconveniencing the person that's helping you."

PACE OF DRUGSTORES CLOSING

The big drugstore chains still have thousands of locations, and the AP's analysis counted more than 24,000 independent pharmacies. But drugstores routinely close because they aren't doing well or the population has dropped — and the pace of closures is picking up.

CVS said in 2021 that it planned to close 900 stores over three years; more than 600 already have shuttered. Rite Aid is expected to close hundreds as it works through a bankruptcy reorganization.

Across the U.S., more than 7,000 pharmacies have closed since 2019, according to data from University of Pittsburgh researcher Lucas Berenbrok, who considers that estimate conservative. Of those pharmacies, 54% were independent drugstores, an AP analysis of Berenbrok's data found.

"I think what (drugstores) have realized in the past couple years is that they are a little thinly spread out," said Keonhee Kim, an analyst at the research firm Morningstar.

Blame the closings on problems like sliding revenue and rising expenses. For years, the reimbursement that drugstores receive for filling most prescriptions has shrunk while things like utilities and employee pay continue to climb.

Theft also is a problem, and Walgreens has cited it as one of the many reasons it closes stores. Drugstores often carry small, pricey items like beauty supplies, batteries and baby formula that are easy to steal and resell, said Burt Flickinger III, managing director of the retail consulting firm Strategic Resource Group.

It can take new pharmacy locations as many as three years to build a customer base and break even, said Jeff Jonas, a portfolio manager at Gabelli Funds who follows the industry. That's tough when customers also are less reliant on drugstores now than in decades past.

He said shoppers buy more things online or during bigger trips to Costco or Walmart, and discount stores look even more attractive when inflation pushes up prices.

"I don't think (consumers are) walking into the pharmacy two or three times a week and doing those little impulse buys in the front of the store as often," Jonas said.

Drugstores say they haven't forgotten the communities left behind when a store closes. Walgreens, for instance, delivers some prescriptions for free within a 15-mile radius.

But deliveries don't involve seeing a pharmacist or a pharmacy staff. And pharmacy technicians and others behind the counter often look like their customers or may speak a language that's dominant in the neighborhood.

At least one in six retail pharmacies reported offering services in Spanish, according to the AP's analysis of pharmacies in 49 states and data from the National Council for Prescription Drug Programs.

That connection can't easily be replaced "by telling patients, 'Go to the next pharmacy,'" Adepoju at the University of Houston said.

Governments are starting to pay attention, too, with some states planning to study pharmacy closures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Adepoju would like to see more regulation, given the growing role pharmacies play in providing care.

"If health care is seen as a right, not a privilege," she said, "then you shouldn't be able to just shut it down because you submitted paperwork and you put a notice on the front of your door."
_

AP Health Writers Kenya Hunter and Devi Shastri and AP videojournalist Shelby Lum contributed to this report. Shastri reported from Herscher, Illinois.

No central point of contact stymie motel voucher program Damon Scott, City Desk ABQ

The clock is ticking on a required city report to address the metro’s inventory of blighted motels and its hotel voucher program — one that’s meant to assist citizens in urgent need of a free room for a night or a short stay, including those experiencing homelessness.

Frustrations with unsafe and unhealthy motels and the coordination of the city’s voucher program were made public earlier this year by Albuquerque City Councilors Renée Grout and Nichole Rogers. Both are concerned that problem properties, where vouchers are often used, move people from one precarious situation into another and that locating a room is unnecessarily complicated.

The two successfully drove the unanimous passage of an ordinance through the City Council in February that directed an 11-member panel to come up with solutions by summer.

Read more about the ordinance here.

“It’s been made clear that we don’t really have a [voucher] program; we have funding we give to local nonprofits and then leave it up to them to go out and establish relationships with hoteliers,” Rogers told City Desk ABQ on May 24.

Vouchers are considered a critical bridge to more stable housing for individuals and families in certain situations, including homelessness, eviction or the aftermath of a natural disaster like a fire. They are also used to give refuge to victims of domestic violence.

While Mayor Tim Keller hasn’t signed off on the fiscal year 2025 budget recently passed by the City Council, the Health, Housing & Homelessness (HHH) Department, which administers the vouchers, said it expects the program will receive about $350,000 in funds.

‘IT WAS MADDENING’

Rogers said a central theme that has arisen from the panel’s twice-weekly meetings is the need for a central point of contact for voucher distribution. She said under the current system, multiple HHH providers like the Barrett House, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities and Albuquerque Health Care for the Homeless receive vouchers but without a clear plan.

“We have multiple organizations that all run things differently,” Rogers said. “It makes no sense when we’re trying to service our clients.”

She said what typically happens is members of Albuquerque Community Safety (ACS) identify someone in need of a voucher, but then has to call the HHH list of providers and hope someone will pick up the phone. Rogers said the providers’ offices are often closed after 5 p.m. and aren’t open on the weekends.

“Working with ACS to find those vouchers, it was maddening,” Rogers said. “They are the boots on the ground, why do they have to call all the [HHH providers]?”

Rogers said she and the panel have discussed giving ACS more direct control of voucher distribution.

TAKING ON BLIGHT

The panel includes representatives of the motel industry and staff from the city’s Abandoned and Dilapidated Abatement Property Team (ADAPT) — part of the fire marshal’s office. Grout and Rogers wanted the two groups to come together to address the health and safety risks at blighted properties. Proposed reforms include increasing code and ordinance enforcement and better marketing of city programs designed to assist hoteliers having such issues.

“I’m hoping we can get to a place where the city is negotiating blocks of rooms with hotels and we come up with a way where we can see what stock of rooms are available to better coordinate,” Rogers said. “I’d like to see the city take the lead and use technology to create a coordinated system so we know how many beds are available — whether shelter beds or hotel beds. We don’t have that system.”

Grout said many of the problem motels are located in the east Central Avenue corridor (which is in her district) and also in areas of west Central Avenue.

“It’s difficult for some agencies to find safe and clean motels that take vouchers,” Grout said when crafting the ordinance.

Further, Grout and Rogers said the panel is looking at possible updates to the city’s 20-year-old overnight lodging ordinance, which the voucher program falls under.

“We’ve been reimagining what this can look like. We’re on track — brainstorming and reimagining,” Rogers said.

New study indicates a rare New Mexico fish may actually be two different species - Hannah Grover, New Mexico Political Report

Researchers from Purdue University published a study in the peer-reviewed journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences indicating that a small fish that is only found in New Mexico may actually be two different species.

This could have implications for the efforts to protect and conserve this unique animal.

The White Sands pupfish is only found in four springs. Two of those populations were created by humans releasing the imperiled fish into the springs.

While it is not listed on the federal endangered species list, New Mexico considers it a threatened species and there have been efforts in the past to get the White Sands pupfish listed as endangered.

A 2009 petition cites threats to the White Sands pupfish as exotic ungulates like the introduced oryx, missile-firing activity, water withdrawal and the invasive salt cedar plants.

The genetic research indicates that the pupfish from the Salt Creek population were taken and released to create the Lost River and Mound Spring populations.

The fourth population—found in Malpais Spring—is genetically distinct from the other three populations due to a phenomenon known as genetic drift. Essentially, about 5,000 years ago, the Carrizozo lava flow separated the Malpais Springs pupfish from the Salt Creek pupfish. Because of that separation, the two populations diverged genetically and became different species.

Andrew Black, a study co-author, said the researchers knew there were two distinct populations—or evolutionarily significant units—with different genetics when they went into the study process. But they discovered that the genetics are so different that the pupfish found in Malpais Springs is essentially a different species.

“The separation between samples from these two ESUs was huge!” Black said in a response to questions from NM Political Report. “The point was driven home when we looked at how differentiation between these two ESUs occurred across the entire genome. We were expecting relatively low levels of differentiation, with perhaps several peaks of high differentiation associated with genes underlying local adaptations, but instead we saw an extremely high background of differentiation across the entire genome. This, I believe, is when we decided we needed to change our study design from looking at two populations of one species to two different species.”

Black had previously researched the Leon Springs pupfish during his graduate studies before he went to work on postdoctoral research at Purdue University with Professor J. Andrew DeWoody.

“I was excited to work with pupfish again,” Black said in an email response to questions from NM Political Report. “For fish, they really are pretty charismatic.”

Black described them as “small chunky fish, with cool behavior and male nuptial coloration.” He said the “discrete desert springs they typically live in makes for a really interesting model.”

And, Black said, he’s always been interested in using genetics and genomics as a tool to protect and conserve imperiled species.

Black and his team have proposed calling the pupfish found in Salt Creek, Lost River and Mound Spring the enchanted pupfish—a reference to New Mexico being known as the Land of Enchantment. Meanwhile, they propose keeping the name White Sands pupfish for the Malpais Spring population.

But, before the enchanted pupfish can be officially declared a different species, other scientists need to concur.

Mike Ruhl, the assistant chief of the research and management section for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish’s Fisheries Management Division, said that the state is aware of the research project and the recent paper.

“White Sands Pupfish occur entirely on U.S. Department of Defense lands and are managed through a Conservation Team that includes White Sands Missile Range, Holloman Air Force Base, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Department,” Ruhl said in a statement. “Given its very recent publication, the management implications of the article are currently unclear and adoption of new fish species designations is a function of the Committee on Names of Fishes, a joint committee of the American Fisheries Society and the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists. The White Sands Pupfish Conservation Team will consider the research and its implications at its next meeting.”

WildEarth Guardians was behind the 2009 petition to have the pupfish listed as endangered, but it is unclear how the organization will respond to the study.

Joanna Zhang with WildEarth Guardians anticipates that the new study will have an impact.

Zhang said that if the pupfish is indeed two separate species, it means that the population found in Malpais Spring has no duplicate population. If something were to happen to Malpais Spring, the pupfish could be lost entirely. A refuge population could help provide some assurance that the rare pupfish could survive long into the future through human intervention, but, Zhang said, “ideally you don’t lose the population that’s out in the wild.”

The study also has other implications for conservation.

“Making sure that both of them have a robust population that has enough genetic diversity to remain viable in the long term, is really important,” Zhang said.

Black said that previous research and current genetic diversity estimates indicate that the White Sands pupfish has little genetic diversity.

“We showed that the genetic diversity levels of these fish are substantially lower than many other related species, close to the levels observed in several inbred lines of laboratory fish,” he said. “This is problematic as diversity is a good proxy of fitness and helps buffer environmental change.”

He said continued efforts to “ensure effective gene flow between populations of the same species” as well as conservation efforts to maintain good breeding habitat for the pupfish could help protect the genetic diversity that currently exists.

And researchers aren’t done examining the White Sands pupfish and its genetics.

One of Black’s co-authors, Erangi Heenkenda, has been sequencing the genomes of the White Sands pupfish overtime. This has involved taking genetic samples at two different time points approximately 18 years apart to examine how the species are changing.

Black said Heenkenda’s research should “be informative of the evolutionary processes occurring at a more contemporary time scale.” 

Gallup hospital says it is ‘indigent’ ahead of court order to find more than $100M - By Patrick Lohmann,Source New Mexico

A New Mexico District Court judge has ordered a struggling rural hospital staring down one of the state’s biggest-ever medical malpractice judgments to put up a bond of more than $100 million before it can file an appeal.

A lawyer for Rehoboth McKinley Medical Center in Gallup told a judge Thursday in Santa Fe that the hospital has nowhere near that kind of money. In fact, as of early February, the hospital had a negative net worth of more than $25 million, attorney Larry J. Montaño told the court.

In January, jurors awarded a Gallup man and his family more than $68 million, including $50 million in punitive damages. The 2019 lawsuit stemmed from a botched hernia surgery that left the patient, who cares for young children, with life-long complications.

The patient’s lawyers attribute much of the size of the jury’s award to what the lawyers said was a cover-up by doctors and attempts by the defendants’ lawyers to slow-walk the civil case.

The judgment occurs as the hospital, one of two serving much of northwestern New Mexico, struggles to stay afloat after years of financial difficulties and allegations of mismanagement.

State lawmakers gave the hospital $12 million to cover “shortfalls” this legislative session, and the city of Gallup and McKinley County have given it about $5 million to make payroll. But the hospital still has outstanding debts to vendors, the interim CEO has said.

The hospital intends to appeal the verdict, but before it can do so, it is required to offer up more than $100 million in bond for the expected length of the appeal in court. An appeal could take three years or longer.

‘AKIN TO AN INDIGENT DEFENDANT’

The hospital will have to put up a bond worth the $68 million for the judgment, plus about $6 million in pre-judgment interest and tens of millions in post-judgment interest that will accrue over the next three years. The judgment is likely the second-biggest for medical malpractice in New Mexico history, according to Vargas.

The hospital will be on the hook for the entire amount of the bond if it does not succeed in its appeal, said Ray Vargas II, one of the patient’s lawyers.

The exact figure will be calculated based on an updated judgment expected soon from Judge Maria Sanchez-Gagne. It could easily exceed $130 million, lawyers said.

Once the judge issues a final judgment, the hospital will have 60 days to come up with the money, Vargas said.

Montaño did not respond to emailed questions from Source New Mexico after the hearing about what the hospital will do next or what its appeal will entail.

But he did describe in filings and in court Thursday a precarious financial situation at the hospital, part of the hospital’s effort to convince the judge to set bond at less than $21 million or offer it a reprieve from the judgment.

The filings contained affidavits from two recent chief financial officers at the hospital, as well as from Curi Insurance, the hospital’s insurance provider.

The insurance company will cover, at most, $34 million of the verdict, Montaño said, which is the limit of the policy. The insurance pool covering Rehoboth also covers 16 other rural hospitals, including six that have their own pending medical malpractice claims, a Curi official wrote.

The hospital has negative net worth of $25.7 million, and it leases, not owns, the hospital’s building from McKinley County. That leaves it few options to come up with the rest of the bond required and threatens the hospital.

Even without the additional requirements of the bond, Montaño wrote, the judgment could still mean an existential threat for the hospital.

“Were plaintiffs allowed to execute on the judgment,” he wrote, “Rehoboth might need to seek bankruptcy protection, lay-off employees or cease operations.”

And the amount of the bond could cause irreparable harm to the hospital’s constitutional rights to appeal the judgment.

“Due to its precarious financial position, Rehoboth is akin to an indigent defendant who should not be prevented from appealing an adverse judgment because it lacks the financial resources to post bond,” Montaño said.

The hospital gets 56,000 patient visits a year, he wrote. Apart from Gallup Indian Medical Center, Rehoboth is the only medical provider for the town of 20,000 people and others within a 60-mile radius.

CASE LOOMS OVER COUNCIL MEETING

The judgment loomed over a meeting of the Gallup City Council on Wednesday night.The hospital’s interim CEO, Bill Patten, asked for and unanimously received approval from councilors for an additional $2 million for payroll.

After months of changes, Patten predicted the hospital could soon be in a position to pay off its debts and then its employees.

Still, he acknowledged that the judgment could mean his efforts could all be for nothing, and that the hospital was on a tightrope.

“I’m confident in the strategies that the legal team has presented to me that there are options there that give us more than even money that we’re going to be able to survive this,” he said. “And so all that all the work that I’m doing is with the assumption that the lawsuit isn’t going to tip us over.”

And Patten expressed hope that the patient and his legal team don’t want to push the hospital into closing.

“I don’t believe that either the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorneys want to be responsible for closing us,” he said. “And in essence, if the judgment as initially handed out … is not changed, that’s what would happen.”

Ambulance services for some in New Mexico will rise after state regulators approve rate increase - Associated Press

Ambulance rates will rise for some in New Mexico, particularly those without health insurance after state regulators approved a rate hike for a Presbyterian-affiliated nonprofit ambulance company.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reported that Albuquerque Ambulance Service cited rising labor costs and inflation when it applied for the rate increase that resulted in 65% in service rate increases and 15% in mileage rate increases. It had initially applied for much higher increases.

The rate hike was approved Thursday.

Patients on Medicaid or Medicare, which make up about 77% of the patients that use Albuquerque Ambulance Service, will not see a rate increase, along with those on veterans health benefits, according to the New Mexican.

The patients most affected are those without health insurance, which makes up approximately 7% of the company's patients, according to the New Mexican.

Health care spending in the United States has more than doubled in the past two decades, reaching $4.5 trillion in 2022, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

Albuquerque Ambulance Service operates nearly 100,000 transports annually in the counties with Albuquerque and Santa Fe, along with Sandoval and Rio Arriba counties, according to the New Mexican.