No One in New Mexico Is Officially Tracking the Quality of Care in Neonatal Centers

This article is copublished with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. New Mexico parents worrying over the health of an extremely preterm baby have another reason to be concerned: Their state government provides almost no oversight of the care provided by neonatal intensive care units. Thirty-one states, including neighboring Arizona, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah, have laws or rules requiring oversight of neonatal intensive care hospitals, according to a 2020 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study. Some of these states make sure that hospitals provide care at the levels they claim to, and some periodically review data on patient admissions, transfers and outcomes to identify potential problems.

Some states, like California, do both. New Mexico does neither. 

The federal government does not set standards for NICUs.

Two New Mexico Hospitals Have Similar Infant Death Rates — Until You Look at Extremely Premature Babies

Note: This story contains a description of the death of an infant. This article is copublished with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. It was morning shift change at Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque, New Mexico. In the neonatal intensive care unit, the lights were dimmed, as usual.

How We Investigated Death Rates for Extremely Preterm Babies in New Mexico’s Largest Maternity Hospitals

This article is copublished with ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. New Mexico In Depth is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network. A New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica investigation found that the tiniest, most premature babies born at Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque died at higher rates than they did at a hospital a few miles away, Presbyterian. 

Two New Mexico Hospitals Have Similar Infant Death Rates — Until You Look at Extremely Premature Babies

The for-profit Lovelace and nonprofit Presbyterian are New Mexico’s largest maternity centers. 

Data Sources

The most comprehensive data on newborn hospital outcomes is collected by the Vermont Oxford Network, or VON, an international neonatal intensive care unit research collaborative. VON maintains patient-level intake and care data for member NICUs, including those at Lovelace, Presbyterian and the University of New Mexico Hospital. The data can be used to calculate death rates at individual hospitals.

For the state’s dormant criminal abortion law, conditions are primed for a repeal

Lawmakers and reproductive health advocates believe the time is ripe to remove a criminal abortion law from New Mexico state statute. First step: the reintroduction of a bill during the 2021 legislative session that would repeal a 1969 law that, while unenforceable due to the U.S. Supreme Court 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that protects the right to an abortion, remains one of the most punitive of its kind in the country. 

This story first appeared in New Mexico In Depth’s 2021 Legislative Special Edition. Sponsors of the abortion legislation as well as healthcare advocates say the makeup of the state Legislature, public opinion on abortion access and shifting support at the federal level indicate that the moment is right for repealing the law that severely restricts and criminalizes abortion in New Mexico. But that momentum doesn’t mean it will be easy. Opponents are already preparing for a fight.The effort to repeal the 50-year-old state law has gained urgency in New Mexico since the composition of the U.S. Supreme Court shifted to the right in recent years, creating fear that a majority of justices would overturn Roe v. Wade.

COVID disparities force a public health reckoning

The coronavirus feels the way it looks in widely circulated images, said Cleo Otero: like a thorn. “That’s how it felt inside my body, especially my lungs. It was painful. Like it was scratching the inside of your body. I could really literally feel the virus inside my body.” 

Otero’s first clue she was sick came at the laundromat in Albuquerque where she usually buys a bag of spicy chips as she waits on her clothes.

Midwifery presents important avenue for fighting health disparities

Hill with her granddaughter. (Courtesy of Nandi Andrea Hill)

When Nandi Andrea Hill got pregnant at 21, she knew she wanted to have a home birth but couldn’t find a midwife, so she turned to her mother who coached her to have a natural birth without medical interventions. They planned to go to the hospital for the delivery itself, but the baby came faster than they expected. 

“I ended up birthing her at home unplanned with paramedics that came rushing in my room, eight men. They didn’t catch her, she flew out and she did wonderful. They took me to the hospital, but literally when I was putting her up on my chest—I was in culinary arts—I said I need to be a midwife.