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 

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.

Obama's Budget Would Fund Navajo Water Project

Mar 4, 2014

President Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget could provide $2.4 billion to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. That’s an increase of about $33 million from the previous year.

The budget increase would go to education, social services, and Indian child welfare. It would also fund water projects in New Mexico.  

Deborah Martinez

Thousands of people with developmental disabilities in New Mexico have been waiting to receive the full spectrum of services available through a government program, some for more than 10 years.  The Tatz family is inching towards that benchmark, as they and their kids grow older.   

“I had back surgery," Lesly Tatz announced. Lesly's mom, Jill Tatz, explained, "She has had medical issues, and had open heart surgery at 18 months.” Her daughter has had numerous surgeries.

New Mexico Surpasses U.S. In Childhood Flu Vaccinations

Feb 27, 2014

The number of children receiving flu vaccines in New Mexico is higher than the national average, according to the state Department of Health.

During the 2010-2011 flu season, almost 60 percent of kids between the ages of five and 12 got vaccinated for flu. However, that number jumped to about 70 percent the following year.

publik15 via Flickr

The chaotic transition a state agency forced last year from 15 New Mexico-based health organizations to five Arizona companies had many problems, an annual audit has found.

Public domain image.

  The Department of Energy says preliminary tests indicate 13 workers were exposed to radiation during a recent leak at the nation's underground nuclear waste dump in southeastern New Mexico.

The DOE said in a news release Wednesday that it has notified the workers of the positive results and will do further testing. They declined to comment further on the extent of the possible exposure until a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Udall Proposes Health Bills

Feb 26, 2014
Senator Tom Udall

New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has proposed two bills to address access to health care in rural communities. 

Every county in New Mexico, except one, has been designated by the federal government as having a health care provider shortage. And beyond a shortage, surveys show that over half of the doctors in New Mexico were at capacity and unable to take on more than a handful of new patients.

Preschool Obesity Rates Drop Nationally

Feb 26, 2014
Rita Daniels

Young children are beginning to show signs of lower obesity rates – 43 percent over ten years, according to a new Centers for Disease Control Study.  

The study doesn’t break down the decline state by state, but the news doesn’t surprise Judy Baron.  She’s a co-director of the Serendipity Day School for 2 to 4 year-olds in Albuquerque.

The audit the state used to justify suspending Medicaid payments to an Alamogordo health center last year appears to have included mistakenly flagged claims, according to the state Attorney General’s Office.

That raises questions about the process the Human Services Department (HSD) used to ensure the audit was accurate before deciding to suspend Medicaid dollars to the Alamogordo organization.

Navajo Nation President: Tax Junk Food

Feb 24, 2014
jeffadair via Flickr

Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly recently vetoed legislation that would increase taxes on junk food sold on the reservation but says he will support a new, tweaked version.

The bill would have added a two-percent tax to all junk food sold on the Navajo Nation, and was designed to encourage healthy eating habits while fighting problems like diabetes.

But how the tax will be collected, how business owners will be impacted, and what actually constitutes junk food all need to be hammered out before Shelly signs off, which he hopes will be this year.

Patrick Feller // Compfight cc

Among the governor’s goals in her 2014 State of the State Address: deal with the shortage of health care providers in New Mexico. Every county except one doesn’t have an adequate supply of physicians and dentists, according to the federal government. And about 170,000 more folks will be eligible for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Though Gov. Susana Martinez has unrolled some plans to deal with the shortage, the Legislature wasn’t able to pass measures that would have boosted the state’s health care work force.

Wikimedia Commons: Jacob Lofman, PIX Incorporated, NYC, photographer

A 30-day legislative session—like the one that ended yesterday at noon—is mostly about hammering out a state budget. But other priorities sneak in, too, and 2014 saw a lot of public health-related bills. Here’s a look at the new laws and programs that made it out of Santa Fe alive.

Newborn Heart Disease Testing—HB 9

• Adds a test for congenital heart disease to the list of evaluations a newborn undergoes before being discharged.

Public domain image.

UPDATE 7:20p 02/21:

Department of Energy officials say radiation levels detected in and around the nation's only underground nuclear waste repository are consistent with a leak at the southeastern New Mexico facility.

Carlsbad field office manager Jose Franco said Thursday that readings from sensors above and below ground indicate the radiation is coming from waste stored at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. But officials won't know what caused the leak until they can get underground to investigate. That could be weeks.

What Is Public Health?

Feb 20, 2014 / Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

KUNM Call In Show Thu. 2/20 8a:  What is public health?  Maybe the term makes you think of vaccinations or controlling and preventing diseases like diabetes and influenza.  But the field is much larger than that.  

Call 277-5866 in Albuquerque or toll-free 1-877-899-5866.

Lawmakers Ban Texting While Driving

Feb 19, 2014
Centers for Disease Control

A bill that would prohibit texting while driving now heads to Governor Susana Martinez's desk for approval after clearing the legislature.

E-mail, instant messages and internet surfing all fall under the bills scope.

John McPhee is with New Mexico Department of Health. He says distracted driving is a growing problem across the country.

UPDATE Feb. 19, 2014, 10:17 a.m.: SB 55 is awaiting a vote by the Senate.

Today was Disability Rights Awareness Day at the Roundhouse, and a bill calling for a plan for the state's troubled waiver program is stuck in committee awaiting a hearing. 

UPDATE Feb. 19, 2014, 10:35 a.m.: This measure is in the House Taxation and Revenue Committee.

The state Senate approved a bill last night that creates temporary funding for more than two dozen rural hospitals. 

Bryant Furlow / New Mexico In Depth

When he learns that signing up for Medicaid will mean he can visit a nearby hospital in Española instead of traveling to Santa Fe for urgent care, the Native American man sits back in his chair, eyebrows arched. Then he smiles.

“Cool! Oh that’s good,” the gray-haired, middle-aged man from Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo says.