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New Mexico's Top 10 Public Health Stories In 2013

KUNM Public Health New Mexico reporter Marisa Demarco breaks it down with the highlights of public health news for 2013.

10. Childhood Obesity Declines

It's the first good news in a while on this front: among 2- to 4- year olds in New Mexico, the obesity rate is dropping. Some attribute the positive trend to new programs supporting locally grown produce. WIC clients can get about $30 a week to spend in farmers markets, and SNAP is accepted at such markets, as well. El Centro Family Health Clinic in Española offers prescription vouchers for about $35 a week to help combat obesity, and resulting data should help farmers petition state lawmakers for boosting these fresh, local food initiatives.



New Mexico's Plan to Promote Healthier Weight

New Mexico's Health Rankings

National Obesity Data

2013's Fattest and Trimmest Cities


Photo Credit: Tambako the Jaguar via Compfight cc

9. U.S. Ranked High for Plague

The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene ranked the United States No. 11 on a list of reported plague cases by country. And where do people in the U.S. contract the bubonic plague? New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, California and Texas. In fact, half of all plague cases in the States come out of the Land of Enchantment. Paul Ettestad with the state's Department of Health attributes that to regions of our state with lots of piñon and juniper trees, which are home to a variety of fleas and rodents. 



Plague Health Date in New Mexico

All Three Plague Patients in N.M. Recovered in 2013

Bubonic Plague Still Kills Thousands Worldwide

Black Death Dogs in the East Mountains


Sidonie Squier

8. Squier: No Hunger in N.M.

Human Services Department Secretary Sidonie Squier was heavily criticized for an email that was sent to other administrators. In it, she wrote: "… there has never been and is not any any significant evidence of hunger in N.M. … " and suggested the state's Hunger Task Force should not "just expand every government food program in existence." Activists and politicians around the state jumped on the statement, citing studies and poor national rankings. For instance, Feeding America, a national nonprofit affiliated with the local Roadrunner Food Bank, named New Mexico worst for food insecurity among youths in 2013. Squier eventually conceded that her email was badly phrased, and said that ensuring that children have access to meals is among her chief priorities. 



Food Depot Report on the State's Hunger Stats

Roadrunner Food Bank Fact Sheet

N.M. Highest Rate of Childhood Hunger

Food Stamps Drop, Charities Fill the Gap


Photo Credit: Ira Gelb via Compfight cc

 7. Human Trafficking on the Rise

The black-market buying and selling of people is a growing business in New Mexico. “A very significant proportion of young people who get involved in human trafficking are very young teenagers, and often, they are runaways,” said David Pederson with the Attorney General’s Office. Human trafficking is evolving in the Southwest from pimp-prostitute relationships to intricate schemes run by cartels and gangs, according to activists, who aim to stop the rise of what is essentially slavery. The AG's Office has prosecuted 15 human trafficking cases in New Mexico, and says all of those are so far related to individual entrepreneurs, not large organizations.



The Law in New Mexico


Laws Speed Up Prosecutions

Human Trafficking Summit 2013


Photo Credit: USDAgov via Compfight cc

 6. Veterans Protest Slow Health Services

Members of the military and their families gathered in Albuquerque to express their frustration with health care once they return home. Veterans with combat disorders spoke out about the slow treatment for PTSD, traumatic brain injuries and military sexual assault. New Mexico advocates said veterans were facing three- to six-month waits to see doctors and so wound up using ERs for primary care. In June, the Department of Veterans Affairs was slogging through a backlog of more than 600,000 applications for coverage nationally. 



New Mexico VA Health Care System

Homeless Veterans Program

Free Legal Advice for Veterans in Albuquerque


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 5. Short on Dentists

There are around 1,100 practicing dentists in the state, but that's not enough. New Mexico is experiencing a dental health care shortage, due in part to its rural nature. There is also not a school of dentistry in the state, which was ranked the fourth worst in the country for its gap in tooth care. About 24 percent of residents live in an underserved area of New Mexico—five counties don't have a practicing dentist: Guadalupe, Harding, Hidalgo, Mora and Union. To top it all off, more than a third of N.M. dentists are nearing retirement age, according to a report from the Pew Charitable Trust released in 2013.



Guv's Budget Includes Dental Training

Health Action New Mexico Dental Initiative

New Mexico Board of Dental Health Care

Unfilled Dentistry Jobs


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  4. Heroin Seeps Into the State

New Mexico is No. 1 in the country for drug overdose deaths; we've held that spot on and off since 1992. In 2013, heroin became cheaper, purer and easier to buy than ever. People start their addiction process with prescription drugs, but move to heroin because it's inexpensive and available, according to District Attorney Kari Brandenburg. With a decline in heroin production in South America, neighbor Mexico has cornered the market, producing five times more than it used to over the last decade. “There’s more consumers, unfortunately, that are demanding that product,” said Eduardo Chavez with the Drug Enforcement Administration in Albuquerque.



Heroin Awareness Committee

Heroin Use on the Rise Among N.M. Teens

Krokodil, Cheaper, Stronger, Deadlier


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  3. LANL Researchers Fight HIV

A study conducted on 36 monkeys helped Los Alamos National Laboratory scientists discover a breakthrough in developing an HIV vaccine. They tested a mosaic vaccine, which is designed to react to many kinds of HIV viruses. “HIV evolves incredibly quickly,” said LANL scientist Bette Korber. “It evolves in every single infected person." The test monkeys who were treated with the mosaic showed resistance to HIV. The LANL scientists said the next step is to begin testing human response. 



Enzyme eradicates HIV

Scientists Capture HIV Protein Image

Spanish Researchers Develop Vaccine


Photo Credit: Andrew Mason via Compfight cc

  2. Behavioral Health Agencies Ousted

This story dominated many a news story in 2013, and it's likely to be the subject of many more this year. Medicaid funding was frozen in June for 15 behavioral health providers in New Mexico, and emergency contracts went out to five Arizona companies, who took over. The Human Services Department said allegations of fraud—$33.8 million in overpayments—justified the takeover. The allegations stem from an audit conducted by an out-of-state company called PCG. State Auditor Hector Balderas was ordered to review the results, but he says the Human Services Department altered the document before it was sent to him. What was removed? An earlier, partial-release said PGC "did not uncover what it would consider to be credible allegations of fraud." 



Behavioral Health Chief Steps Down

Arizona Companies Cut Patient Services

Timeline: Behavioral Health Shakeup

Hundreds of Pages Still Secret

An Open Letter to Gov. Martinez


  1. Problems With Healthcare.gov

The last thing President Obama's controversial health care plan needed was tech problems, but large-scale failure for online signups plagued healthcare.gov's launch. The Congressional Budget Office predicted 7 million people would register for health care over the course of six months. Unfortunately, people who attempted to enroll were often met with roadblocks and the online equivalent of impossibly long lines. Healthcare.gov was defective and backward. Obama was steamed. And it looked like the expensive team tasked with developing the online registration site was leaderless and lacked big-picture vision. But 2014 is seeing some changes: On Friday, Jan. 10, it was announced that the main IT contractor, CGI Federal, would be fired from the project



New Mexico's ACA Site

December Site Outage

"No Drama" Credo Led to Disaster

2 Million Sign Up for Health Care

63,000 New Mexicans to Transition


Marisa Demarco began a career in radio at KUNM News in late 2013 and covered public health for much of her time at the station. During the pandemic, she is also the executive producer for Your NM Government and No More Normal, shows focused on the varied impacts of COVID-19 and community response, as well as racial and social justice. She joined Source New Mexico as editor-in-chief in 2021.