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MON: Lack of both healthcare workers and infrastructure hurting New Mexicans’ access to medical care, + More

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Lack of both healthcare workers and infrastructure hurting New Mexicans’ access to medical care– Leah Romero, Source New Mexico

State analysts report a shortage of 5,000 healthcare workers

Despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent by the state legislature, many New Mexico counties still face shortages in healthcare workers and placements for them to practice.

According to a recent Legislative Finance Committee report presented to state lawmakers this week, healthcare workers were the top occupational need of 28 New Mexico counties in 2023.

Based on latest data from 2021, only seven of the state’s 33 counties were at or above the benchmark of 8.5 primary care practitioners per 10,000 people. Bernalillo County had an excess of 138 providers in relation to the benchmark, the highest rate in the state.

Most counties were in the range of one to 10 providers below the benchmark. However, nine counties were below the benchmark by more than 10 providers. Doña Ana and Valencia counties were missing the largest number of providers in the state – 47 providers below the benchmark.

A University of New Mexico Health System report stated an additional 334 primary care providers “would be needed for all New Mexico counties to meet the national benchmark.”

As for mental health, about 40% of the state’s population is underserved, or about 845,000 residents in 28 counties. New Mexico is joined by South Dakota, Wyoming, Indiana and Montana as the states facing the largest shortages of providers.

HEALTHCARE STUDENTS NOT STAYING TO PRACTICE IN NEW MEXICO, INFRASTRUCTURE NOT UP TO PAR

Michael Richards, senior vice president for Clinical Affairs with the UNM Health System, explained to lawmakers that there is an average of 3,000 students enrolled in health care classes at New Mexico universities, including nursing and master’s in social work programs.

However, he said in his department’s report “even if every student were to graduate and seek employment in New Mexico and in the healthcare field, there is still a shortage of approximately 2,000 workers within the healthcare and social assistance field.”

LFC analysts reported there was an average annual shortage of 5,000 healthcare workers in the state between 2018 and 2023.

The state legislature has appropriated nearly $200 million to the state Higher Education Department for endowments and financial aid as well as allocated tens of millions of dollars toward loan forgiveness programs, according to the LFC report. Despite this, students have been slow to take advantage of the assistance.

While there are not enough currently enrolled healthcare students to fill the state’s gap, according to the LFC report, the students who do graduate in New Mexico have limited options for where they work because of a lack of healthcare infrastructure, particularly in rural areas.

“In some cases, the reason why we don’t have the clinical delivery system we want is because we don’t have the healthcare professionals to recruit into the delivery system. In other cases it’s because there’s no healthcare infrastructure to recruit the providers into,” Richards told lawmakers.

Infrastructure includes not only physical hospitals or clinics, but access to broadband as well, particularly as interest in remote care has increased since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“New Mexico’s future strategies will need to focus on expanding health educational programs in parallel with growing healthcare infrastructure and attracting and retaining talent,” Richards’ report stated.

Other suggestions given in the LFC report included increasing Medicaid funding and funding to the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program, amending the Medical Malpractice Act, expanding the Rural Health Care Practitioner Tax Credit and permitting the Medical Board Compact Commission to work with the Interstate Medical Licensure Compact to reduce barriers for physicians licensed in other states to practice in New Mexico.

RFK Jr. courts New Mexican voters on his visit to premiere an addiction documentary– KUNM

Independent presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. made the trip to New Mexico this past weekend.

He came to premiere a documentary surrounding addiction. The film is called “Recovering America”.

Kennedy Jr. says that he has struggled with the disease himself. Being addicted to heroin for 14 years, he is now in his 40th year of recovery.

Addiction recovery is a priority in the campaign of RFK Jr. He says he aims to federally legalize marijuana and use those taxes to build rehabilitation farms and treat people who are addicted to illegal drugs across the country.

A few hundred people came to the Kiva Auditorium in downtown Albuquerque on Saturday.

Many made the trip to watch the documentary, while others came to see the presidential candidate and learn more about his campaign.

Study links pollution to low birth weight in New Mexico– Rodd Cayton, City Desk ABQ

The authors of a new study say they have found a link between industrial air pollution in New Mexico and the state’s higher-than-average rates of babies with low birth weight.

The study, conducted by a team that includes members from the University of New Mexico, found that the relevant emissions were largely concentrated in the northwest and southeast parts of the state as well as in the Albuquerque area.

Babies born with weights below 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams) can face a host of health challenges and later, an increased risk for chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease, according to the study published in the Journal of Environmental Management.

About one in 12 babies, or 8.2%, in the United States is born with low birth weight, the researchers say. But in New Mexico, the rate is nearly one in 10, 9.1%, according to March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the health of moms and babies.

FIRST OF ITS KIND

The study’s authors say their work is the first to examine the effects of air pollution on low birth weight in New Mexico by looking at individuals over a long period. The study examined the relationship between industrial emissions found near expecting women’s homes and the weight of their babies at birth.

The research team included:

  • Assistant Professor Xi Gong, Ph.D. candidate Yanhong Huang and Associate Professor Yan Lin from the UNM Department of Geography and Environmental Studies.
  • Assistant Professor Shuguang Leng and Associate Professor Li Luo from the UNM Department of Internal Medicine.
  • Jenny Duong of the New Mexico Department of Health.
  • Faculty from Texas State University and the University of Miami.

The team used data from the New Mexico Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quantify exposure intensity by home address. They analyzed New Mexico birth certificates from 2008 to 2017, which included 233,340 babies with normal birth weights and 22,375 babies with low birth weights (defined in the study as below 2,500 grams).
Researchers also compared information on demographic and medical factors between both groups for the analysis.

“We wanted to find out if industrial air pollution is a risk factor for low birth weight in New Mexico and we were able to identify five air pollutants that show significant positive associations to low birth weight,” Huang said.

THE PROCESS

The study relied on annual emissions data from the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory Program — which requires industrial sites to submit detailed emissions reports each year — and EPA air quality monitoring data, to determine the amounts of air pollutants pregnant people were exposed to.

Researchers, the study says, discovered connections between residential exposures to several pollutants — including benzene, chlorine and styrene — during pregnancy and low birth weight in babies.

Each of the pollutants is the result of industrial operations, the study says, and the researchers found that the closer pregnant people lived to locations generating those pollutants, the more likely they were to have a baby with low birth weight.

According to March of Dimes, low birth weight can contribute to the development of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, developmental disabilities, metabolic syndrome and obesity later in life. It can also create immediate challenges for babies, such as vision impairment and breathing and digestion problems.

NEXT UP

The authors suggest further research should emphasize the southeastern part of the state, which is close to more than 50 industrial sites in Texas that emit the chemicals identified in the study.

Gong and Huang will next work on a similar study focused on industrial air pollution and cancer rates in New Mexico.

“We hope these results can be used to help the public and government officials better understand the environmental risks of industrial air pollutants,” Gong said in the release.

Defense package heads to Senate sans RECA Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

The $883.7 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) heads to the U.S. Senate without expanding a program to compensate people for radiation exposure by the federal government.

The package for fiscal year 2025 narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives along mostly partisan lines at 217-199 after introductions of right-wing amendments barring spending on issues range from abortion to combating climate change.

The package includes increases in pay for members of the military and higher food and housing stipends. The bill includes provisions that ban the Pentagon from “paying for or reimbursing expenses relating to abortion services.” It further bars the Tricare health care program from gender-affirming surgery for transgender troops and freezes any hires for diversity, inclusion and equity positions.

Much of the amendments were adopted in the 2023 defense package passed in the House along party lines, but were ultimately cut from the final version.

An effort to expand Radiation Exposure and Compensation Act was attached to last year’s defense package, but was stripped during conference on the bill.

The unique fund offered lump-sum payments to certain civilians living “downwind” of test sites, uranium miners before 1971 and federal workers on atomic test sites who experience certain cancers and diseases linked to radiation.

The program, nicknamed RECA, expired last week. Legislation to broaden the benefits to Americans across the Western U.S. and Guam has sat before the House for months after passing the Senate 69-30 vote in March.

On Wednesday, Republican House leadership blocked bipartisan efforts from Congress members to expand RECA, with a committee vote killing an amendment to the defense package.The amendment was introduced by the Republican Representative of Guam, James Moylan, and Rep. Anne Wagner (R-Missouri). Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández, who sits on the House Rules Committee, moved to approve the amendment, which failed in a 4-9 vote.

Committee members expressed skepticism about the $50 billion cost to expand the program, echoing previous objections from Republican House leadership.

In remarks on the floor after the rules committee vote, Leger Fernández said Congress is failing to act, while downwinders and uranium miners deal with the fallout of cancer, diseases and early death.

“Blocking a vote on our bipartisan RECA amendment is walking away from the opportunity to do right by these communities, whom we have hurt,” she said.

This is the latest in a string of disappointments for advocates, including people bombed more than 78 years ago in the areas surrounding the Trinity Test Site, who have never been compensated by the federal government.

The NDAA still requires passage through the Senate, and reconciliation between the two versions before becoming law.

All three New Mexico representatives voted against the bill.

Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.) told reporters in a press conference after Friday’s vote, that she and others in the New Mexico delegation will push for expansion.

“We are regrouping, we are identifying other opportunities, and of course pushing for it to be attached to the NDAA in the Senate or through conference,” she said.

She pushed back on arguments that expanding RECA, which has paid out $2.5 billion since 1990, is too expensive.

“How is it that we can spend trillions of dollars every year, on all of these programs – defense and nondefense, and health care – but we can’t take care of the very people that have been impacted by our federal government’s weapons program,” Stansbury said.

The Senate could take the bill up as soon as the next few weeks, or it could stretch into the coming months.

Sen. Ben Ray Luján said in a recent interview that he would work to expand RECA. The defense package is one of the options, said Adán Serna, a spokesperson Luján said Friday.

“Senator Luján continues to push for the House to hold a vote on the Senate-passed bill to save and strengthen the RECA program,” Serna wrote in an emailed statement. “If the House fails to act, he will consider all possible options to extend and expand RECA, including the NDAA.”

Report says 'poor maintenance' led to deadly 2022 crash of firefighting helicopter in New Mexico — Susan Montoya Bryan, Associated Press 

A loss of engine power due to poor maintenance caused a 2022 helicopter crash in New Mexico that claimed the lives of four Bernalillo County first responders as they were returning home from a firefighting mission, according to federal investigators.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board issued a final report Wednesday. They also noted that a maneuver to account for the loss of power was complicated by the setting sun and low altitude and contributed to the crash of the Bell UH-1H helicopter.

The Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office said in a statement that the crash was devastating and deeply affected the department and the community.

Sheriff John Allen, when he took office in 2023, grounded the department's air support unit and overhauled procedures. The yearlong effort included revamping guidelines and acquiring a new aircraft that meets safety standards.

In light of the NTSB findings, Allen said it was clear the decision to pause and overhaul the program "was not only necessary but critical."

"We have taken every possible step to ensure such a tragedy does not happen again," he said.

Killed in the crash were Undersheriff Larry Koren, Lt. Fred Beers, Deputy Michael Levison and Bernalillo County Fire Rescue Specialist Matthew King.

The crash marked the single deadliest incident for law enforcement in New Mexico history and one of the deadliest for first responders.

According to the investigation, an examination of the engine found that a gear failed because of fatigue, leading to a driveshaft shearing and a gearbox seizing. That resulted in a loss of engine power.

The report noted that before the crash, the oil was changed after a small piece of metal was discovered. Samples were sent to a lab, but investigators said the results were not used to troubleshoot the problem on the aircraft.

"Had the operator conducted an analysis, they could have potentially identified the deteriorating component and impending failure," the report stated.

Koren was piloting the helicopter on July 16 as the group returned from a wildfire on private land near Las Vegas, New Mexico. Authorities say the aircraft made an abrupt descent without any turns before hitting the ground.

Records show King, 44, managed to call 911. Despite being mortally wounded, he tried to lead rescuers to the remote crash site before dying from his injuries.

Koren, 55, was a veteran pilot who had been with the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office for more than two decades. Being the sole pilot at the time, his death had left the future of the air support unit uncertain. The sheriff's office relaunched the unit in December and along with the new safety measures, added an extra pilot and mechanic.

Report finds Colorado was built on $1.7 trillion of land expropriated from tribal nationsGraham Lee Brewer, Associated Press

A report published this week by a Native American-led nonprofit examines in detail the dispossession of $1.7 trillion worth of Indigenous homelands in Colorado by the state and the U.S. and the more than $546 million the state has reaped in mineral extraction from them.

The report, shared first with The Associated Press, identifies 10 tribal nations that have "aboriginal title, congressional title, and treaty title to lands within Colorado" and details the ways the land was legally and illegally taken. It determined that many of the transactions were in direct violation of treaty rights or in some cases lacked title for a legal transfer.

"Once we were removed, they just simply started divvying up the land, creating parcels and selling it to non-Natives and other interests and businesses," said Dallin Maybee, an artist, legal scholar and enrolled member of the Northern Arapaho Tribe who took part in the Truth, Restoration, and Education Commission, which compiled the report.

"When you think about examples of land theft," Maybee continued, "that is one of the most blatant instances that we could see."

The commission was convened by People of the Sacred Land, a Colorado-based nonprofit that works to document the history of Indigenous displacement in the state. The commission and its report are modeled after similar truth and reconciliation commissions that sought to comprehensively account for genocide and the people still affected by those acts and governmental policies.

The report also recommends actions that can be taken by the state, the federal government and Congress, including honoring treaty rights by resolving illegal land transfers; compensating the tribal nations affected; restoring hunting and fishing rights; and levying a 0.1% fee on real estate deals in Colorado to "mitigate the lasting effects of forced displacement, genocide, and other historical injustices'"

"If acknowledgment is the first step, then what is the second step?" Maybee said. "That's where some of the treaties come in. They guaranteed us health and welfare and education, and we just simply want them to live up to those promises."

That could look something like what happened not long ago in Canada, where, following the conclusion of a truth and reconciliation commission in 2015, the government set aside $4.7 billion to support Indigenous communities affected by its Indian residential schools.

The U.S. currently has no similar commission, but a bill co-sponsored by Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a Chickasaw Nation citizen, and Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.), a citizen of the Ho-Chunk Nation, would establish a commission to research and document the long-term effects of the Indian boarding school system in the U.S. That measure passed the House Education and Workforce Committee on Thursday with bipartisan support.

"The United States carried out a federal policy of genocide and extermination against Native peoples, and their weapon against our youngest and most vulnerable was the policy of Indian Boarding Schools," said Ben Barnes, chief of the Shawnee Tribe, who testified before Congress in support of a commission to investigate the ongoing effects of the boarding schools.

"The next step is reconciliation and healing for the generations who've dealt with the trauma that followed, which begins with establishing the Truth and Healing Commission to investigate further," Barnes said.

The 771-page report also calls on Colorado State University to return 19,000 acres of land that was taken from several tribal nations through the Morrill Act, signed by Abraham Lincoln in 1862, which used expropriated land to create land grant universities across the country.

In 2023 the university pledged to commit $500,000 of the earnings from its land grant holdings. But while the commission commended that decision, it said "there are questions about its adequacy, given the resources that have been generated by the endowment created by selling and/or leasing stolen land."

A university spokesperson told AP that the school has not had a chance to review the report but noted that "that revenue from the endowment land income fund is used for the benefit of Native American faculty, staff and students."

The commission also found that Native American students in Colorado have lower high school graduation rates and higher dropout rates than any other racial demographic. It determined that state schools teach about Native American issues only once in elementary school and then again in high school U.S. history classes, and it called on the Colorado Department of Education to increase the amount of its curriculum that focuses on the histories, languages and modern cultures of tribal nations that are indigenous to the state.

The education department said in a statement that it is "committed to elevating and honoring our Indigenous communities.

"We have worked alongside tribal representatives to create a culturally affirming fourth-grade curriculum focused on Ute history fourth-grade curriculum and have made this available to our school districts and educators," the statement added.

However that educational program is not mandatory across Colorado, where curriculum decisions are made at the local level.

A 2019 study found that 87% of public schools in the U.S. fail to teach about Indigenous peoples in a post-1900 context and that most states make no mention of them in their K-12 curriculum.

"They should be an integral part of the curriculum, especially in areas where there's a high percentage of Native Americans," said Richard Little Bear, former president of Chief Dull Knife College in Montana and a member of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. "There's gotta be a full scale effort."

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The story has been updated to correct the spelling of Dallin Maybee's last name, from Mayberry.

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Brewer is an Oklahoma City-based member of AP's Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on X at @grahambrewer