Analysis Finds N.M. Nursing Homes Worst In Nation, Aztec Faces Major Budget Crunch

May 21, 2018

Analysis: New Mexico Nursing Homes Worst In NationThe Associated Press & The ABQ Journal

A recent analysis says New Mexico nursing homes are the worst in the nation.

The Albuquerque Journal reports an analysis by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica showed that of 74 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified homes located in New Mexico, inspectors reported serious deficiencies in 36 of them between 2015 and April 2018.

Reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services indicate more than 2,217 infractions were reported in New Mexico-based nursing homes in recent years.

Reported infractions range from the relatively minor (failing to give adequate notice before switching roommates, not promptly delivering mail) to the potentially deadly (improper fire safety precautions, abuse of residents).

A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health's Division of Health Improvement said in a statement that the department "take(s) seriously our role to protect New Mexico's elderly population."

City Of Aztec Facing Budget Crunch, Spend Cuts UrgedThe Associated Press & The Daily Times

A northwestern New Mexico city is facing such a budget crunch it may end the fiscal year with only a few thousand dollars.

The Daily Times in Farmington, New Mexico, reports Aztec finance director Kathy Lamb said last week the city could end fiscal year 2019 with just $4,000 in its general fund if does not cut spending.

The Aztec City Commission may approve a preliminary budget of $26.5 million — about $7.3 million coming from the general fund — when it meets Tuesday.

The dire fiscal outlook has commissioners working to triage scheduled community improvement projects.

Projects, including the North Main Avenue extension project, may be delayed amid the budget crunch.

New Mexico Considers Limits For Overworked Public DefendersThe Associated Press

Rules are being developed that would allow overburdened public defenders in New Mexico to refuse new cases rather than provide inadequate legal representation to poor criminal defendants.

The New Mexico Public Defender Commission gathered testimony Monday from local public defenders, national judicial experts and prosecutors as it considers how much work public defenders can shoulder before turning away indigent defendants who face jail time.

The state Supreme Court last year declined to intervene on behalf of public defenders who say they are overworked.

Chief Public Defender Bennett Baur says attorney caseloads often exceed national guidelines, undermining constitutional guarantees. The protocols for refusing cases would not apply to juveniles, homicides, violent felonies and sexual offenses.

Local district attorneys say the state does not have the authority to refuse legal representation.

Democrats Clash In Heated New Mexico Gubernatorial DebateThe Associated Press

Three Democratic candidates for New Mexico governor are taking shots at each other as the primary race for the state's open gubernatorial seat heats up.

Sen. Joseph Cervantes and businessman Jeff Apodaca took turns during a KOAT-TV/Albuquerque Journal sponsored debate Sunday questioning Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham about profits she made from a health care consulting company she co-founded.

Lujan Grisham has faced questions about her consulting company and the circumstances of her resignation as Department of Health secretary under then-Gov. Bill Richardson in 2007.

The congresswoman attacked her opponents for not giving their campaign workers health care benefits.

Republican Congressman Steve Pearce is seeking the GOP nod in an uncontested primary.

The state's struggling economy and poverty remain top issues in the race.

Woman Awarded $1.2M From Santa Fe Stolen Car, Police CrashThe Associated Press & The Santa Fe New Mexican

A Santa Fe County jury has awarded an 80-year-old woman more than $1.2 million after she was injured in a crash involving a stolen car chased by Santa Fe police.

The Santa Fe New Mexican reports the jury late Friday decided that Arlena Jackson was entitled to damages following the April 2016 crash.

Jackson filed a lawsuit against the Santa Fe Police Department, the city of Santa Fe and a local Toyota dealership where police say 30-year-old Jeremy Chavez had stolen the vehicle.

Jackson's lawsuit argued that police acted negligently when they chased Chavez.

The lawsuit says the crash left her with eight fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, bleeding in the lungs and other injuries.

Attorney Scott Hatcher, who represented the city of Santa Fe, says police were only doing their jobs.

New Mexico State Lawmaker Arrested On Aggravated DWIAssociated Press

A New Mexico state lawmaker has been arrested on aggravated drunken driving following an Albuquerque DWI checkpoint stop.

Republican Rep. Monica Youngblood of Albuquerque was detained in Albuquerque early Sunday after an officer reported that she had bloodshot eyes and slurred speech. Police say Youngblood performed badly on a field sobriety test and then refused a breathalyzer test.

The GOP lawmaker was booked at the Metropolitan Detention Center and later released on her own recognizance.

Youngblood says she regrets the situation and regrets even more not taking the breathalyzer test. She says she wants to bring the "matter to a swift and just conclusion."

Youngblood has been a vocal supporter of stiffer DWI penalties proposed by Republican Gov. Susana Martinez.

Veteran Officer With New Mexico State Police Dies On DutyAssociated Press

New Mexico State Police say a veteran officer has died after suffering a medical incident while on duty.

They say Sgt. Thomas Vitale died Saturday.

State Police didn't immediately disclose details of the medical incident.

They say Vitale was an Army veteran and served 18 years in the police department and was assigned to District 12 in Deming.

He's survived by his wife and three children.

State Police say funeral plans for Vitale are pending.

Española Has Paid $800K To Settle Complaints Against Officer KRQE-TV, Associated Press

A northern New Mexico city has paid out more than $800,000 in settlements in connection with excessive force complaints involving one officer.

KRQE-TV reports that court records show that Española Police Sgt. Greg Esparza has been named in seven lawsuits or tort claims involving excessive force since 2012.

Española Mayor Javier Sanchez says the complaints are concerning and changes are coming. He says he plans to increase training for officers and add more accountability in the department.

The city has also recently hired a new police chief.

The police department declined to comment on whether Esparza has been disciplined for any of the complaints.

Esparza did not respond to KRQE-TV's attempts to reach him for comment.

Increased Amounts Set For New Mexico Lottery ScholarshipsAlbuquerque Journal, Associated Press

The amount of per-student financial aid provided by scholarships mostly funded by New Mexico Lottery revenue is going up.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that additional funding provided by the state and a reduced demand for scholarships due to enrollment drops will bring increases of more than $1,100 for some students.

The Higher Education Department says the program had a $4 million surplus as 2,400 fewer students received lottery scholarships in the 2017-2018 school year than projected.

Scholarships will rise to $2,294 per semester at research institutions such as the University of New Mexico, an increase of nearly $1,150 annually.

Students at "comprehensive" four-year institutions will get $1,560 per semester, for an increase of approximately $580 annually, while community college scholarship will rise to $581 per semester from $432.

New Mexico Unemployment Rate Slips To 5.4 Percent In AprilAssociated Press

New Mexico's seasonally adjusted unemployment rate slipped slightly to 5.4 percent in April, down from 5.6 percent in March and 6.3 percent a year ago.

State officials said Friday that nonagricultural payroll employment has grown by 10,100 jobs, or 1.2 percent, between April 2017 and April 2018.  All gains have come from the private sector, which is up 10,600 jobs, or 1.7 percent. The public sector is down 500 jobs, or 0.3 percent.

In the private sector, service-providing industries are up 6,300 jobs, or 1.1 percent, while the goods-producing industries are up 4,300 jobs, a gain of 4.7 percent.

Latino Political Committee Pumps Cash Into New Mexico Race Associated Press

A national political committee that helps elect progressive Hispanics is spending an additional $100,000 on ads in support of Democratic congressional candidate Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

The Latino Victory Fund on Friday announced the ad buy in support of Sedillo Lopez, a former law school professor and advocate for immigrants and victims of domestic violence. The fund previously spent $320,000 in support of Sedillo Lopez.

Sedillo Lopez is competing in a crowded primary race for the Democratic nomination to an open congressional seat representing the Albuquerque metropolitan area. At least four Democratic candidates have Hispanic family ties.

Latino Victory Fund President Cristobal Alex praises Sedillo Lopez for her legal expertise and commitment to progressive stances on immigration and women's issues.

Albuquerque-based U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham is running for governor.

Border Patrol Supervisor Arrested In Child Porn CaseAssociated Press

U.S. prosecutors in New Mexico say a supervisory U.S. Border Patrol agent is being held in a federal child pornography case.

The office says 45-year-old Jason Christopher Davis of Las Cruces, New Mexico, made his first federal court appearance Friday on a criminal complaint charging him with receipt of material containing or constituting child pornography. 

Davis is in federal custody pending a preliminary hearing and detention hearing on Wednesday.

The public defender who has been appointed to represent him did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The criminal complaint says Davis is suspected of receiving child pornography in April. It says Las Cruces police executed a search warrant on an email account subscribed to Davis. 

Coconino National Forest To Close 6 AreasAssociated Press

A third national forest in drought-stricken Arizona is closing major areas to the public to prevent wildfires.

Coconino National Forest officials announced Friday that four large areas near Flagstaff and two other large areas elsewhere in the forest will temporarily close Wednesday.

The move affects recreational activities such as camping, hiking and off-road vehicle use as well as work projects in the forest.

Apache-Sitgreaves National Forests officials announced that some areas of those two jointly managed forests will be closed to the public this week, although officials haven't yet decided which ones.

The Kaibab National Forest on May 11 announced the closure of a large area centered on Bill Williams Mountain near Williams.

That closure is intended to protect the watershed for Williams.

Otero County Commission Opposes White Sands Park ProposalWhite Sands National Monument, Associated Press

The southern New Mexico county that includes most of White Sands National Monument opposes U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich's proposal to elevate the vast expanse of shifting sand dunes to national park status.

The Otero County Commission said in a May 10 letter to the Democratic lawmaker that making White Sands a park wouldn't necessarily increase visitation, that his bill is unnecessary and that significant questions about the proposal remain unanswered.

The Alamogordo Daily News reports that the county commission long had been on the fence about making White Sands a national park but leaned against it.

Heinrich said Friday that making White Sands a national park has broad support.

His legislation includes provisions for a land exchange between White Sands and the U.S. Army, which has an adjacent missile range.