State investigating hospital with coronavirus policy that profiled pregnant Native American mothers and separated them from newborns

This article was produced in partnership with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Sign up to receive ProPublica’s biggest stories as soon as they’re published. And sign up to receive New Mexico In Depth stories here. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Twitter Saturday that state officials would investigate allegations of racial profiling of pregnant Native American women at a top hospital in Albuquerque. 

Lujan Grisham was reacting to a story published Saturday by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica revealing that Lovelace Women’s Hospital had a secret policy for screening Native American women for coronavirus based on their appearance and home ZIP code, according to several clinicians who work there. 

Described as racial profiling by medical ethicists, the policy resulted in some Native American women being separated from their newborns at birth as hospital staff waited for test results, according to the clinicians. “These are significant, awful allegations and, if true, a disgusting and unforgivable violation of patient rights,” Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, wrote. “The state of New Mexico is investigating whether this constitutes a CMS violation and will unequivocally hold this hospital accountable.”

CMS, or the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, regulates hospitals to ensure that all patients have access to medical care.

Report identifying nonviolent offenders eligible for release sits on shelf during pandemic

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last week took a step toward releasing prisoners to blunt the threat of an outbreak of the new coronavirus in New Mexico’s 11 prisons. The first-term, Democratic governor signed a three-page executive order directing her Corrections Department secretary to release nonviolent inmates who have 30 days or less on their sentences and meet other criteria. 

But more than a week later, just 14 of the state’s 6,600 inmates had been freed, according to the department, and it is not clear how many others have been identified for release. 

New Mexico In Depth, meanwhile, has unearthed an annual survey identifying hundreds of nonviolent inmates — many serving time for drug possession — who could be released during the course of a year. In a six-page annual report from the New Mexico Sentencing Commission, the state’s non-partisan, criminal justice data clearinghouse and policy advising hub, authors wrote that 294 people behind bars in the state’s prisons on June 30, 2019, could be released between Oct. 1, 2019 and Sept. 30 of this year.