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. For all articles and web exclusive content, go to 

Laura Tenorio

Young scientists from Taos High School won the top prize at eCYBERMISSION, a national army-sponsored contest that asks students to come up with real-world solutions to problems in their communities. 

Ninth-graders in Taos figured out how to create inexpensive filters to remove antibiotics from drinking water. On Friday, June 20, they won $20,000 for their efforts, plus an additional $5,000 grant for the next phase of their work—implementation.

PunchingJudy via Creative Commons

  New Mexico has the second-highest rate of overdose deaths in the country, according to the CDC. Now, a life-saving drug called naloxone is not only available by prescription, the cost of it is covered through Medicaid.

Laura Tenoria

Taos High School students are pitching a water-cleaning project in a national science competition called eCYBERMISSION this week in D.C. The prize? $25,000 and the chance to help the U.S. get antibiotics out of its water supply.

Students at Taos High have figured out how use crushed blue crab shells to create filters that remove antibiotics from water. They used the crustacean shells to create Chitosan, which is commonly used in agriculture, medicine and industry. 

KUNM Earns Two NMBA Awards For Excellence

Jun 7, 2014
Deborah Martinez

KUNM's Public Health Reporter Deborah Martinez took first place in two news categories for large market radio stations at the annual New Mexico Broadcasters Association awards banquet last night in Albuquerque.

Veterans Health Administration

  Members of New Mexico's congressional delegation have lots of questions for officials with the New Mexico Veterans Affairs health care system, but the answers have been few.

And more concerns are being raised by U.S. Rep. Michele Lujan Grisham following revelations that thousands of veterans were left in limbo by being assigned to a doctor who didn't actually see patients.

The New Mexico Democrat has asked for the results of an internal review of the New Mexico VA, but local officials have yet to comply.

State To Pay, Certify Promotoras

Jun 4, 2014
Deborah Martinez

new law aimed at paying community health workers will kick in this summer. These women and men provide health and social services to their neighbors and act as a vital link between time-strapped doctors and their patients.  Health promoters – or promotoras – are helping homebound New Mexicans get the healthcare they need.

Art by Nani Chacon courtesy of Young Women United

A local advocacy organization is looking at reforming the way the judicial system treats women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.

Young Women United traveled to Santa Fe last week to make four recommendations to the Criminal Justice Reform Subcommittee. Among them, judges should acknowledge pregnancy and lactation status when determining the conditions of bond or release.

NM Seniors Not Hungry For Food Assistance

May 29, 2014
Wikimedia Commons

Thirteen percent of seniors in New Mexico are under threat of not getting enough eat, according to an analysis of the most recent data by the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger.

But a lot of eligible seniors here are not signing up for food assistance, and that could mean $30 million worth of benefits are going unclaimed.

Rita Daniels

  About 75 people gathered last night in Albuquerque's southeast heights for a teach-in about the Kirtland Air Force Base jet fuel leak. 

A panel of elected officials, scientists and environmental activists went over what is and what is not being done to clean up the plume of millions of gallons of contamination creeping towards the city's drinking water supply wells at a rate that has many people alarmed. 

Will NM's Medical Marijuana Program Be Snuffed Out?

May 21, 2014
Rusty Blazenhoff via Flickr / Creative Commons License

KUNM Call In Show Thu. 5/22 8a:  New Mexico’s Department of Health has announced proposed rule changes to the state's medical marijuana program. The changes include increased fees for patients and for growers.

my_southborough via Creative Commons

KUNM's Public Health correspondent Marisa Demarco recently completed a three part series on the use of solitary confinement in New Mexico prisons and jails.

A recent report co-authored by the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty and the American Civil Liberties Union New Mexico found the practice to be not only ineffective, but inhumane and expensive.  

Demarco explained to KUNM's Rita Daniels that some inmates were put in segregation for really long periods of time, over two years in one case.

Bryant Furlow / New Mexico In Depth

Last year, the state’s Human Resources Department said an audit had helped find “credible allegations of fraud” against 15 New Mexico health organizations offering services such as drug addiction treatment and suicide counseling. Though HSD kept the audit secret — from the public and the organizations themselves — the department asserted the audit's findings justified suspending Medicaid funding for the organizations.

Nataura Powdrell remembers one inmate at the Metropolitan Detention Center who refused to take his meds. When the jail’s mental health staff tried to talk about it, he explained he didn’t want to become stable. Because then he’d be released from jail.

Then, he knew from experience, he would run through the 30-day supply of medication that the jail provides to exiting inmates. He would have a psychotic break. And he’d go find heroin so he could get comfortable with the voices in his head.

DOJ Promises Change

Apr 28, 2014
Marisa Demarco

  The Department of Justice held the first of three meetings Monday aiming to gather community input on Albuquerque’s police force.

People who showed up at the Westside’s Alamosa Community Center to give input last night were put off by the format of the meeting. It was not a public forum. Instead, commenters were given a number and then taken into a room where they spoke to DOJ employees as part of five-person focus groups.

Screenshot from "Orange is the New Black"

The hole. That’s what they call it on television. It’s the mind-shattering pit fictional prisoners will do anything to avoid.

In real life, human rights advocates say New Mexico needs to cut back on using solitary confinement as a punishment method—especially for people coping with mental illnesses. Prison officials agree that it should be used less often, though most take issue with the way it’s portrayed in prison dramas.

  UPDATE 4/23 1:45 p: Two days after Albuquerque police shot and killed a 19-year-old female who was suspected of truck theft, the chief of the troubled department says he has little information about the latest shooting.

APD's Mental Health Quandry

Apr 16, 2014
Wikimedia Commons

KUNM Call In Show Thu. 4/17 8a:  The Albuquerque Police Department recently made national headlines for the shooting of a man in the Sandia foothills who was mentally ill.

How can Albuquerque police learn to interact with people with mental illness more effectively? What improvements does the U.S. Department of Justice say they need to make?

spacepleb: Compfight via cc

  Three members of Albuquerque’s Police Oversight Commission resigned yesterday, saying the commission lacks the ability to provide real oversight of the city’s police force.

my_southborough via Creative Commons

Bernalillo County jail Chief Ramon Rustin’s resignation took effect Monday. After three years as the head of the largest jail in New Mexico, Rustin stepped down saying he needed to meet family obligations. 

KUNM spoke with Rustin in February about mental health care at the Metropolitan Detention Center.

  Jail staff says MDC is the largest mental health provider in the state. Chief Rustin agreed. In fact, Rustin put that as No. 2 on the list of problems at the Bernalillo County lockup. So what's No. 1? Overcrowding, he said.

Editor's Note: This story has been taken down as it contained text from a Farmington Daily Times article on the same topic without proper attribution. We strive for proper attribution in our reporting and will post the KUNM News Reporting Guide when it is completed which will include details on our newsroom ethics and practices. Questions? Please contact News Director Elaine Baumgartel -

New ACA Numbers Show Surge In Enrollment

Apr 6, 2014
Deborah Martinez


The New Mexico Health Exchange reports that a total of 51,400 people have signed up for insurance coverage, either under the Affordable Care Act or directly through health insurance companies as of March 31.

The numbers seem large because unlike past reports, this one includes insurance exchange (or marketplace) shoppers and individuals and groups purchasing plans that are separate from the ACA.

Generation Justice

Sun. 4/6 7p: Generation Justice will host a community panel featuring journalist David Correia and Senator Jerry Ortiz y Pino, discussing the historical analysis of militarization of police departments and the decline of mental health resources and how this correlates to where we are at today. We are also joined by local community organizers, Albuquerque Peace and Justice Center Coordinator Sue Schuurman, representative from A.N.S.W.E.R Gloria Rebar, and Kenneth Guy Ellis II, father of the late Kenneth Guy Ellis III, who will talk about the current situation and plans of action.

kla4067 vis Wikimedia Commons and CC

Independent Review Officer Robin Hammer criticizes the city's Police Oversight Commission for failing to examine APD's overall policy on the use of force.

"The current commissioners have chosen not to use some of the powers they’ve already been given," she said in an interview with KUNM. "At no point in my 18 months has the Police Oversight Commission chosen to look at officer-involved shootings and to review what’s gone on."

APD Chief Statement On Crisis Officer Contradicted

Apr 3, 2014
Still from APD video footage March 16, 2014

Contrary to initial reports from the Albuquerque Police Department, no Crisis Intervention Team officers trained to de-escalate situations involving people with behavioral health issues were called to the scene of a Sandia foothills standoff that ended in the death of a camper last month at the hands of police.  

Deborah Martinez

Midnight Monday is the deadline to sign up for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act.  Over the weekend in New Mexico people lined up to get covered, either through the insurance marketplace or Medicaid.  

From those in their 60s to young people under 26 covered under their parents’ plan, hundreds stood in the bright spring sunshine sign up under Medicaid, or with one of four insurance plans.

AZ Firm Cuts Pay For NM Behavioral Health Workers

Mar 28, 2014
Agave Health logo

One of the five Arizona companies that took over operations from New Mexico behavioral health providers last year is announcing salary reductions.  The company says it had to cut pay because it was losing money.

Agave is a non-profit corporation formed in New Mexico by Southwest Behavioral Health of Arizona.  Rather than imposing layoffs, CEO and President Jeff Jorde said the firm needs to cut salaries for its 350 employees by five percent, beginning next week. 

peddhapati via Compfight CC

  In the wake of two shooting deaths by the Albuquerque Police Department  in two weeks, more families of people living with behavioral health issues are calling for reform of the department’s practices.  But despite recommendations years ago to train all staff on how to deal with people living with mental illness, just a fraction of the workforce has the special training.

  The deadline to sign up for health care is Monday, March 31, and New Mexico lags behind just about every other state in the country in terms of enrollment.

Phil Schiliro is the adviser to President Obama on the Affordable Care Act. He moved his family to Santa Fe in 2012 and said enrollment is critical in New Mexico.

A study completed in 2012 showed more than 400,000 New Mexicans don’t have health insurance. Only about 15,000 have signed up on the exchange.

Rita Daniels

Someone has posted a YouTube video claiming to represent the hacker group Anonymous and promising to launch an assault on the Albuquerque Police Department's websites. 

As a Downtown protest against APD’s use of deadly force concluded Tuesday night, officers opened fire on a man on the Westside. He died Wednesday morning. 

Homeless Group Calls for Homes, Not Handcuffs

Mar 26, 2014
Victor Cassale via Flickr CC

  UPDATE: March 26, 2014—Hundreds marched Downtown last night to protest the Albuquerque Police Department's killing of a foothills camper on March 16. As the demonstration wound down, APD opened fire on a man on the Westside, who police say, fired shots at them first. The suspect died at the hospital.