Public Health New Mexico


KUNM‘s Public Health New Mexico reporting project provides in-depth, investigative and continuous coverage of public health in New Mexico, with an emphasis on poverty.

We cover the politicians, the policies, and the agencies responsible for sustaining public health and solving poverty. To fully report on these topics, we give voice to those who are voiceless in the media: people and practitioners; advocates and analysts; researchers and activists; and people hoping to build a better way of life. Through our work, citizens are engaged, government is made more accountable, and the profile of public health and poverty is elevated by expanded public discourse and civic engagement.

This project has been sustained by support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundationthe McCune Charitable FoundationCon Alma Health Foundation. and private donors.

KUNM broadcasts on transmitter throughout central and northern New Mexico, reaching more than half the state’s population.  Nielsen Audio Research from Fall 2014 shows 100,000 people a week listen to KUNM.

Debora Cartagena, CDC

According to the American Lung Association, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada and Texas all received Fs for their tobacco prevention efforts. That’s primarily because the states aren’t spending amounts recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Texas got the worst grades in the Southwest, including an F for smoke-free air and restrictions.

Why Aren't More New Mexicans Enrolled In Medicaid?

Jan 22, 2014

KUNM Call In Show Thu. 1/23 8a: Medicaid Expansion is underway in New Mexico.  We'll talk with several people directly involved in enrolling and outreach, working to get more people covered.  Are you wanting to enroll but haven't, or are you concerned about the number of uninsured New Mexicans? 

We'd like to hear from you! Email callinshow@kunm.org, post your comments online, or call in live during the show.  


UPDATE Feb. 19, 2014, at 1 p.m.: SJR 12 is stuck in committee. A measure that would tie the state's minimum wage to inflation passed the Senate and is awaiting a vote in the House.

Today marked the start of the legislative session and Celebrating Children and Youth Day at the Roundhouse.

Deborah Martinez

A company that oversaw $135 million worth of Medicaid services in New Mexico told a legislative committee Monday that it had been sounding alarms long before payments were frozen to 15 behavioral health providers after an audit last year; however, lawmakers  pointed out that doesn’t square with OptumHealth’s own consistently high audit scores for those firms.

Funding Would Boost Native Youth Suicide Prevention

Jan 17, 2014
—Honoring Native Life—Watch the video here: bit.ly/HonorLife

    In the fall of 2009, four young people in the southeastern part of the state died by suicide. Three were Mescalero Apaches.

Just a few months later, in the spring of 2010, five Navajo teens also died by suicide in Thoreau, a town in Western New Mexico of fewer than 2,000.

The series of Native American teen suicides those two years made it clear: New Mexico was experiencing a crisis.

Most NM Enrollees Eligible For Health Insurance Discounts

Jan 15, 2014
Deborah Martinez

Almost 75 percent of the nearly 8,000 New Mexicans who have enrolled in insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act are eligible for discounts, according to numbers released by the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange Wednesday.  Officials are attributing the spike in the number of enrollees to the state’s multi-pronged advertising campaign.

Roswell Shooting Puts Focus On New Mexico Gun Violence

Jan 15, 2014
Center For American Progress

On Tuesday, two students were flown to Lubbock, Texas, for medical treatment after a seventh-grade student at a Roswell middle school opened fire with a shotgun on a crowd in a gymnasium.

There is still no known motive for the shooting, and officials report the gunman stopped firing when a school staff member approached the student and asked him to put the gun down.

A District Court judge ruled today that it's legal for doctors in New Mexico to prescribe medication so patients with terminal illnesses can end their own lives.

Judge Nan Nash wrote: "If decisions made in the shadow of one's imminent death regarding how they and their loved ones will face that death are not fundamental and at the core of these constitutional guarantees, then what decisions are?" 

New EPA Report Details Threat Of NM Jet Fuel Spill

Jan 14, 2014

A new report from the US Environmental Protection Agency is projecting it could be 30 years before Albuquerque's drinking water wells are contaminated with jet fuel from a decades-old leak at Kirtland Airforce base.  But the impact could be felt much sooner for wells closer to the original contamination site.


The federal government has released new data on the number of people signing up for health care plans on the health insurance marketplace, and there has been a significant uptick in marketplace activity as of December.

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

Chicken Soup For The Influenza-Riddled Soul

Jan 9, 2014
Univ. of Melbourne - public domain

In California, at least eight people have died from the flu. In North Texas, 19 deaths.

A Krokodil Ripped My Flesh

Jan 9, 2014

According to WOAI, the Drug Enforcement Agency has “experienced the first case of a Texan being treated for using a new type of drug which leaves the user with flesh lesions and turns the skin a scaly green color.”

The drug, known as Krokodil, has made headlines in the United States for months, but has only shown up in a few isolated incidents, like the one in Texas.

Native American Cancer Rates Remain Static

Jan 7, 2014
National Cancer Institute

New statistics released by the American Cancer Society show that nationally there's been a 20 percent decrease in risk of death from all cancers. For breast and colon cancer, that rate of decline is closer to 35 percent. However, in the Southwest, there's a slightly different picture.

The director of the state's Behavioral Health Services Division is resigning. Diana McWilliams submitted her resignation letter on Monday, Dec. 16, and her last day is tomorrow. She'll be heading back east to Philadelphia to become the chief operating officer for a nonprofit behavioral health and child welfare organization, she said. 

Free App Enrolls New Mexicans in Obamacare

Dec 19, 2013
Cheon Fong Liew via Compfight cc

Medical residents at UNM created a free app to help New Mexicans get hooked into health care.

The app, called Get Covered New Mexico, can aid folks in calculating what they're eligible for. It links directly to websites people can use to apply for Medicaid and the health care exchange. It also points the way to the nearest physical location to apply for services in-person.

State of California Department of Justice

Stan Padilla has been using heroin for 45 years. On this cold December morning, he’s taking time to visit an Albuquerque syringe exchange to pick up clean gear for his habit.

"I just look out for myself,” said Padilla. “'Round here there isn’t no friends, when it comes out to drugs and money, it’s all about trying to use each other. It’s the way it is. It’s the drug business for you.”

He’s 61 years old, an Albuquerque native, and says he’s cut his habit down to using about once a month.

Wikimedia Commons

Infant mortality rates in the Southwest have been steadily declining over the years. But recent data from New Mexico show a surprising spike in 2012. The state has surpassed national infant death rates for the first time since the 1990s.

According to the Associated Press:

The Case Of New Mexico's Altered Audit

Dec 2, 2013

It's been almost six months since the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) froze Medicaid payments to mental health providers in the state due to a "credible allegation of fraud."

Over the summer, the New Mexico Human Services Department froze Medicaid payments to a dozen mental health providers due to allegations of fraud.

The basis for those allegations: an audit conducted by an out-of-state company called PCG. That audit was never seen by the public or even by those accused of fraud. 

But in October, a heavily redacted version was released, and in it, PCG said it did not uncover what it would consider to be credible allegations of fraud. 

Should NM Legislature Tax, Regulate E-Cigarettes?

Nov 20, 2013

E-cigarettes – those pen-like nicotine dispensers people inhale without the smoke – are posing challenges for governments trying to reduce the number of people who take up smoking.  Today a Legislative panel that oversees spending of a tobacco-settlement fund discussed whether to regulate e-cigarettes in the same way as the traditional kind.

Univ. of Melbourne - public domain

Most parents asking for an exemption to mandatory vaccinations in New Mexico schools were anglo, according to a survey done by the state Department of Health. 

The survey reveals details behind the exemptions. 

Most New Mexico parents cited religious beliefs in order to get an exemption for a child, believing it’s better to develop immunity to diseases naturally by contracting the illness. 

Debora Cartagena, CDC

Native Americans have the highest rates of smoking before, during and after pregnancy than any other ethnic group in the nation. That’s according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control.

According to the CDC, 55 percent of Native American women smoked before pregnancy. During pregnancy, that rate dropped significantly to 26 percent. However, that rate was still the highest of any racial or ethnic group in the nation.

Judge To Hear Behavioral Health Audit Lawsuits This Week

Nov 18, 2013
audit screen shot

The audit that led the Martinez administration to freeze Medicaid funding for more than a dozen behavioral health non-profits in New Mexico is at the center of a hearing Tuesday in Santa Fe.  

The Foundation for Open Government sued state government after state officials released a heavily redacted audit to media.  FOG attorneys claim the report is “too important to the citizens of New Mexico to be kept form public view.”  The open government group asked in its lawsuit for for the audit to be released in its entirety.

AG’s Argument For Secrecy Is ‘Terrifying,’ News Orgs Say

Nov 15, 2013
Rrrodrigo via Flickr

Because it isn’t a law enforcement agency, the N.M. Human Services Department can’t justify keeping an audit of 15 health providers secret using the law enforcement exception to a state sunshine law, two news organizations suing for release of the audit say.


Whooping Cough Cases Prompt Officials To Push Vaccinations

Nov 13, 2013
Centers for Disease Control

State health officials are urging parents to get their teenagers immunized in the wake of a whooping cough outbreak at a northeast Albuquerque high school.

Even if teens had the pertussis vaccination early on, they need to get boosters to prevent infection and transmission of the highly contagious illness.

Dr. Chad Smelser is an epidemiologist with the New Mexico Department of Health. He said teens need the booster because, over time, immunity fades.

SF Community Foundation

People who don’t have a grocery store nearby are often left to settle for fast food choices that are less healthy.  But a mobile food truck stocked with everything from chia seeds to collard greens is ensuring that rural residents have a leg up on better nutrition.  

In response to New Mexico’s high poverty and food insecurity rates, and growing numbers of diabetes and obesity problems, Sysco Foods’ CEO began MoGro –a mobile grocery store that has been visiting five New Mexico pueblos since January of this year.

It's estimated that 7.4 million people in the southwest will be buying insurance on their own under the Affordable Care Act. Approximately 60 percent of those purchasers will be eligible for help with their insurance bill in the form of tax credits next year.

Valle del Sol

This summer five Arizona companies took over a dozen New Mexico mental health agencies accused of Medicaid fraud. Clients were assured that there would be no disruptions in their care.  But those assurances are withering at five key sites.

Drug Enforcement Administration / Creative Commons

Heroin is the reigning king of drugs in New Mexico. From overdoses to prosecutions, heroin is wreaking havoc, and to make matters worse, it’s cheaper, purer, and easier to buy than ever.

New Mexico District Attorney Kari Brandenburg said prosecutions of heroin trafficking and possession in the state have surpassed other drugs like cocaine and meth.

Conversely, the use of prescription opiates are down.