New Mexico drags feet on public health task force sought by lawmakers

In March, as the state scrambled to vaccinate New Mexicans after a surge in COVID-19 cases that overwhelmed hospitals nationwide, lawmakers passed legislation asking the health department to convene a task force to strengthen the state’s public health system. The panel would be one of the first of its kind in the U.S. and as other states look to do the same could serve as a model, according to American Public Health Association Executive Director Dr. Georges Benjamin. But five months later – and with less than four months remaining to prepare its recommendations for lawmakers – the task force has not met and it’s unclear when it will. 

“I’m worried,” said New Mexico Public Health Association President Shelley Mann-Lev. “We have not been given any explanation for the delay. …

A century of federal indifference left generations of Navajo homes without running water

When Julie Badonie was growing up in the small Navajo community of Tohatchi in the 1940s, her father drove a horse-drawn wagon early each morning to a nearby spring. There, he filled wooden barrels with water the family would use that day to drink, cook, and wash. 

Badonie, the youngest of seven children, including brothers who fought in World War II and the Korean War, or one of her siblings would go along. She remembers it as fun. At home, a hose siphoned the water into buckets to bring into the house. Badonie left for boarding school in kindergarten, first just a few miles across town, then several days’ travel away in Crownpoint, where an older sister worked as a cook, and eventually, all the way to Albuquerque for high school.

As water reaches eastern Navajo communities, it brings possibilities and homecomings

For a while, Chee Smith Jr. thought he was going to have to send his father to die among strangers. His family lives at Whitehorse Lake, a Navajo chapter where, until a few years ago, roughly 550 of 700 residents had no running water in their homes, including Smith’s. As Smith’s father aged and his health worsened, it became harder and harder for him to live at home. “We had to haul water from the chapterhouse or the watering points every day for just basic things — for cooking, for laundry, for stuff like that, and also for our livestock,” Smith said. “It takes a big toll.

I Received Tips to Look Into How a New Mexico Hospital Treated Premature Babies. Getting Data Was Nearly Impossible.

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’s not unusual for health care reporters to get out-of-the-blue calls or emails from people in the industry. But when three clinicians from Albuquerque hospitals reached out to me to share concerns about the state’s largest for-profit maternity hospital, Lovelace Women’s, I took note. Two of the tipsters worked at Lovelace. None knew the others had contacted me, but all three had concerns about how Lovelace cared for its most premature babies. 

These delicate preemies are frequently born weighing less than 2 pounds.

Los dos hospitales tienen tasas de mortalidad infantil similares, hasta que se observa a los bebés extremadamente prematuros

Read in English. Nota: Este reportaje contiene la descripción de la muerte de un recién nacido. ProPublica es un medio independiente y sin ánimo de lucro que produce periodismo de investigación en pro del interés público. Suscríbete para recibir sus historias en español por correo electrónico. New Mexico In Depth es miembro de ProPublica Local Reporting Network. Era el cambio de turno de la mañana en el Hospital de Mujeres Lovelace de Albuquerque, Nuevo México.

Cómo investigamos las tasas de mortalidad de los bebés extremadamente prematuros en los hospitales de maternidad más grandes de este estado

Read in English. ProPublica es un medio independiente y sin ánimo de lucro que produce periodismo de investigación en pro del interés público. Suscríbete para recibir sus historias en español por correo electrónico. New Mexico In Depth es miembro de ProPublica Local Reporting Network. En una investigación que llevaron a cabo New Mexico In Depth y ProPublica durante un año, se descubrió que los bebés más pequeños y prematuros nacidos en el Hospital de Mujeres Lovelace de Albuquerque, morían en proporciones dobles que los de otro hospital situado a pocos kilómetros de distancia, el Hospital Presbiteriano (Presbyterian Hospital). 

Los dos hospitales tienen tasas de mortalidad infantil similares, hasta que se observa a los bebés extremadamente prematuros

El hospital Lovelace, institución con fines de lucro, y el Presbyterian, organización sin fines de lucro, son los mayores centros de maternidad de Nuevo México. Fuentes de los datos

Los datos más completos sobre los resultados hospitalarios de bebés recién nacidos quedan recopilados en la Red Oxford Vermont (Vermont Oxford Network, VON), una colaboración internacional de investigación de unidades de cuidados intensivos neonatales.

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.