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 

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. via Public Domain

  The National Cancer Institute will come to New Mexico this spring to investigate how much radiation people were exposed to after the Trinity test in the southern part of the state nearly 70 years ago.

The CDC studied health hazards in the New Mexico and said state residents consumed radiation via water, milk, meat and produce grown here after July 16, 1945, when the U.S. Army detonated a nuclear weapon for the first time.

By ENERGY.GOV [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The director of an organization that evaluated the WIPP site for over 25 years said officials aren’t doing enough to inform New Mexicans.

Dr. Bob Neill led the Environmental Evaluation Group, which provided independent technical evaluations of the WIPP project for more than two decades. He retired a year after the plant opened in 1999, and the group disbanded in 2004.

David Niblack,

New Mexico’s Human Services Department says more consumers, not fewer, are receiving services since the takeover last summer of a dozen behavioral health providers accused of fraud. HSD’s response is contrary to the results of a progress report by a federal oversight agency.

Screenshot from

With less than two weeks left to sign up for coverage through the Affordable Care Act, employees with the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange are bracing for a surge of enrollment.

Spokeswoman Debra Hammer said there are almost 30 events scheduled over the next 10 days that are aimed at educating and assisting those who are still trying to enroll.

Nicolas Raymond via CC

03/20/14 Update: Nuclear Waste From New Mexico Lab May Go To Texas - The Associated Press

The operator of the nation's troubled nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico wants to temporarily store waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory in rural West Texas until it reopens.

Waste storage at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad is halted because of a Feb. 5 truck fire and a Feb. 14 radiation leak that contaminated 17 workers.

Steve A. Johnson via flickr

KUNM Call-In Show Thu. 3/20 8a:  The US has been adding fluoride to water supplies for almost 70 years, and no conclusive evidence links its use to poor public health.  But in many communities, including Santa Fe and Albuquerque, the topic is highly controversial.   This week on the KUNM Call-In Show, we'll talk with advocates on both sides of the issue in advance of an April 9 town hall in Albuquerque.

Douglas Muth via Creative Commons


Excessive drinking is among the leading causes of preventable deaths in the U.S., according to a report just released by the CDC.

Of the 11 states studied, New Mexico had the highest death rate due to alcohol use. For every 100,000 residents, there are about 51 deaths related to excessive drinking, which is almost double the median rate.

The report also tallied up all the years of potential life lost. In New Mexico, that’s a little more than 30 thousand years annually.

Flickr via CC

The U.S. Senate unanimously approved changes to the way sexual assault cases are handled by the military on Monday night—but stopped short of removing the chain of command from the process. Last week a measure that would have done just that failed by five votes.

Ajnagraphy via compfight

KUNM Call In Show Thu. 3/13 8a: New Mexico is perpetually at or near the bottom of state child well-being rankings. New Mexico's children are and have been at risk for abuse, poverty, hunger, and other issues that affect their ability to learn, grow, and be health.  

Ken Lund via Flickr

Community health workers can be paid through Medicaid after a measure signed by Gov. Susana Martinez on Sunday, March 9, goes into effect. As things stand, workers’ salaries are primarily funded by grants.

The legislation also creates a state certification program and funding for trainings.

Insurers Vie For Low-Income Patient Data

Mar 11, 2014
Deborah Martinez

As the March 31st deadline looms for signing up for individual insurance under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies tried to obtain personal information in order to contact potential customers who were previously covered by a state plan.  But state officials would not release the information.

New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange officials say they will market Obamacare to the low-income group themselves, rather than provide personal information to the four big insurance companies. 

US Department of Energy

UPDATE 3/10 7a: The U.S. Department of Energy says new air testing in the nation's only underground nuclear repository shows no detectable radioactive contamination from a leak last month.

Officials at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad said Sunday that instruments used to measure air quality and radioactivity were sent underground Friday and Saturday in the first step to resuming operations at the plant.

They say initial results indicate no contamination in the air or on the measuring equipment.

Wikimedia Commons

  Regulators have been creating various models in order to try to predict when a plume of contamination from a decades old jet fuel leak at Kirtland Airforce Base will reach Albuquerque drinking water wells. 


Just 26 miles east of Carlsbad, N.M., in the Chihuahuan Desert, the United States buries its radioactive waste. Mostly, that’s the clothes, tools and rags that come into contact with elements heavier than uranium on the Periodic Table. But about 4 percent of what’s dumped at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is more toxic and has to be stored in lead casks.