Albuquerque Is Throwing Out the Belongings of Homeless People, Violating City Policy

New Mexico In Depth co-published this story produced by ProPublica, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for Dispatches, a newsletter that spotlights wrongdoing around the country, to receive their stories in your inbox every week. On a recent morning, Christian Smith ran an errand, leaving a shopping cart carrying everything she owned near the Albuquerque, New Mexico, underpass where she’d been sleeping. When she returned, the cart was nowhere to be found. Most of the belongings, such as clothing, makeup and blankets, could be replaced in time.

Assisted living facilities are the new nursing homes. Oversight falls short.

In July 2022, a partially paralyzed and “nearly bedridden” 75-year-old man in a wheelchair fell in his bathroom at Albuquerque Uptown Assisted Living, fracturing his hip, according to court filings. 

But instead of staff immediately calling an ambulance for the man, who “required assistance in all aspects of his life,” he remained at the facility “in significant pain” for three weeks, his estate’s wrongful death lawsuit alleges. Eventually, the lawsuit says, he was taken to Presbyterian Hospital, where the elderly man was diagnosed with blunt pelvic trauma and a broken hip. He subsequently developed severe bed sores and infections. He was taken home, where his obituary says he died on October 1, 2022, his wife of 35 years at his side. 

When the family’s attorney sought the man’s medical records, court documents claim, Uptown administrators said they did not have them. The man’s family could not be reached before publication of this story, and an Uptown official refused to answer New Mexico In Depth’s questions. 

If the man’s case prompted scrutiny from state regulators, their report doesn’t appear in the health department’s health facilities inspection reports database.

New Mexico recorded second deadliest year for alcohol deaths in 2022

Alcohol killed more than 2,000 New Mexicans in 2022, according to new data from the Department of Health, the third straight year the state exceeded that grim threshold. 

Although New Mexico has long suffered the nation’s highest rate of alcohol-related deaths, the crisis has often been overshadowed by the state’s other problems, such as  gun violence, an issue Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham spotlighted last week in her State of the State address. She made no mention of alcohol, however. In recent years, deaths by drink in New Mexico have outstripped deaths by bullets nearly four to one. Arriving as the state’s 30-day legislative session gets underway, the alcohol mortality data underscored the enormous stakes of debates about New Mexico’s drinking problem, which policymakers have clashed over in previous years but largely failed to address, even as the crisis worsened. The number of alcohol-related deaths in 2022 was 28% higher than 2018, the year Lujan Grisham was first elected governor.

Advocates renew push for quarter-a-drink alcohol tax hike

As 2023 came to a close, holiday celebrations slowed New Mexican workplaces to a crawl and many residents raised glasses to toast the new year. But UNM Hospital’s medical intensive care unit remained busy, caring for scores of patients who barely clung to life. As usual, the primary factor landing many of them there was excess drinking. There was a man in his 70s with liver cancer caused by alcohol who had begun bleeding internally, developed mental confusion, and was now in a coma. A 50-something woman so dependent on alcohol that when she abstained, she went into severe withdrawal and developed a case of pneumonia serious enough to put her on a ventilator.

Growing New Mexico maternity care deserts bring long drives, increased worry

Christina spent much of 2023 traveling to Santa Fe for medical care during her pregnancy. She’d leave home about two hours before each doctor’s visit for the roughly 100-mile one way trip from her home in northern New Mexico’s rural Mora county, in case accidents or construction caused traffic slowdowns. Two years ago, she would have received her care 30 miles down the road at Alta Vista Hospital in Las Vegas. But the hospital closed its delivery care unit in June 2022. 

“People say it’s because they weren’t getting paid enough, I don’t really know why but they closed,” said Christina, who asked New Mexico In Depth not to use her last name to protect her and her newborn’s privacy. “So I have to go to Santa Fe.”

Her high-risk pregnancy forced the trip to Santa Fe three times a week in her final months, with transportation costs running about $150 a week.

‘Everywhere you go is short staffed’: New Mexico nursing homes in crisis

Falling Short: Rebuilding elderly care in rural America Rural nursing homes across the country, already understaffed, face significant new federal staffing requirements. With on-the-ground reporting from INN’s Rural News Network and data analysis assistance from USA TODAY and Big Local News at Stanford University, eight newsrooms, including New Mexico In Depth, explore what the rule change would look like for residents in communities across America. Support from The National Institute for Health Care Management (NIHCM) Foundation made the project possible. New federal staffing standards meant to improve the care of millions of Americans in nursing homes could go into effect in as soon as two years. New Mexico’s nursing homes aren’t ready.

Lawmakers tackled New Mexico’s crisis of rural health care workers. It wasn’t enough.

As the crow flies, the Pojoaque Primary Care Center is about 20 miles from New Mexico’s 400-plus-year-old capital, Santa Fe, with its art galleries, well-known opera and tourist destinations. But it’s 45 minutes by car from Dr. Mario Pacheco’s home on Santa Fe’s south side. 
With roots in a small northern New Mexico town himself, Pacheco makes the drive from Santa Fe to serve a rural clientele that largely comes from northern Hispanic communities in the greater Pojoaque Valley. “I’m serving patients that I could really see as being my uncle or my aunt or my dad or my mom,” he said.  “These are people who can relate to me and I can relate to them.”
New Mexico has a severe shortage of healthcare workers like Pacheco, particularly in the state’s rural and frontier areas, where a third of the state’s 2.1 million people live. Lawmakers and the governor invested millions to close the gap earlier this year, but advocates say it’s not enough. “We don’t have enough doctors anywhere in New Mexico, but especially in rural New Mexico,” Pacheco said. 

The challenge is large: in July the state was short 1,000 physicians and almost 7,000 nurses, according to published job announcements around the state. 
And the need is only expected to grow as baby boomers retire and strain the already-overburdened system, without a guarantee that a new generation will replace retiring medical professionals.  Every state is confronting too few medical professionals.

How a 25¢-per-drink alcohol tax fell apart

The Santa Fe New Mexican chronicled how efforts to increase taxes on alcohol over the past 30 years have hit a brick wall at the Roundhouse. Lawmakers budged in 2023, raising the tax per drink by a penny — far short of a 25 cent proposal. Illustration by Marjorie Childress. Ever seen someone make a quarter disappear? You did if you watched this year’s legislative session, where advocates seeking to stem the state’s tide of alcohol-related deaths proposed a 25¢-per-drink tax — and lawmakers shrank it down to hardly a penny.

Proposed Office of Alcohol Prevention steps up ambition, but is short on vision

The New Mexico Department of Health has asked the legislature for $5 million to build an Office of Alcohol Prevention, which would expand the staff focused on reducing excess drinking from a single epidemiologist to a team of 13. If created, the office would represent a significant increase in resources and personnel focused on the state’s epidemic of alcohol-related deaths, by an agency long cowed into inaction against the challenge. But some experts who reviewed an internal description of the proposed office, which New Mexico In Depth obtained by public records request, said the plan was not bold enough to meet the crisis. Tim Naimi, who directs the Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research at the University of Victoria, said that to reverse the state’s climbing death rate would require sustained strategies that influence drinking by everyone in the state, not just those who have already developed serious problems with alcohol. But he said the activities highlighted in the plan were redundant with existing practices and lacked focus and resolve.