New Mexico Department of Health employees received an unwelcome Valentine's Day gift last week when the agency's Public Health Division director sent out a sweeping order.
"An incident today brought to light that there are outdated materials in PHD offices," Maggi Gallaher wrote to employees in a Feb. 14 email obtained by SFR. "We need to assure that all brochures, pamphlets and any other informational materials that are available to DOH clients are reviewed and approved and have the current DOH logo on them."
The order includes all public health information materials—such as pamphlets detailing smoking cessation programs and obesity prevention guidelines—in all of DOH's 55 public clinics scattered across the state.
Another email obtained by SFR, dated Feb. 15, instructs public health clinics to remove "all informational materials that have not been reviewed and approved by the Office of the Secretary." The email explains that all approved material should have a current DOH logo on it, and that "if you are in doubt about the content or format of something, just remove it from public display."
A third email obtained by SFR explains that the directive comes from the governor's office and that it also pertains to material from the CDC, a likely reference to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and "any other agency or entity." CDC spokesman Tom Skinner says the CDC has no regulatory authority to prevent state health departments from such actions.
DOH spokeswoman Aimee Barabe says the order simply ensures DOH will be "responsible and accountable for our staff" with up-to-date material, but others accuse Health Secretary Catherine Torres of responding to a few outdated materials with "a level of micromanagement beyond belief."
Bruce Trigg, who until 2010 directed the sexually transmitted disease program for areas including Albuquerque and Santa Fe, says the order resembles "a bizarre corporate branding process." He maintains it will result in loads of important health information being held back in a state that has the country's highest drug overdose rate per capita and second-highest teen pregnancy rate.
"What is the purpose of public health? Is it to have a new logo?" Trigg asks SFR.
Trigg's wife, Elizabeth Matthews, the former medical director for PHD's Family Health Bureau, says she helped approve materials for programs in her bureau in her eight years at DOH.
"Now, the decisions are all being kicked upstairs to the very, very top," Matthews, who retired in late December, tells SFR. "Why would you have the DOH secretary reviewing a patient pamphlet on birth control when you have perfectly competent nurse managers, nurse supervisors and regional health officers who can approve the materials?"
Torres took four months and tons of mockups to approve the new logo after making it the first order of business once she assumed her secretary role last year, according to a former DOH information technology employee who didn't want her name used because she still works for the state. But the logo, which features a turquoise outline of the state centered with a Zia symbol, a heart, a caduceus and tiny type reading "State of New Mexico Department of Health," is only part of the rationale behind the order. The other reason: It represents Torres' official stamp of approval.
Barabe says the secretary's office, with help from PHD employees, is reviewing the documents with a goal of approving all materials one week after they arrive. She says some material was approved as early as Feb. 17.
"It adds more work for us in the secretary's office as well," Barabe tells SFR. "We're willing to do more to ensure everybody is protected" from bad information.
But to some, this is exactly why the order is a waste of time and resources in an agency already under tight financial restraint. Former Health Secretary Alfredo Vigil, who says he doesn't know enough about the order to fully analyze it, tells SFR that he hopes DOH factored in the cost of replacing and recertifying all materials before giving the order the go-ahead.
The order certainly isn't the first criticism of Torres, who many accuse of creating a hostile workplace. Last fall, DOH cut flextime, which had previously allowed employees to fill their 40 hours on irregular schedules instead of standard 9-to-5 workdays. At least one employee complained to the governor's office after the change. In an email obtained by SFR through a public records request, former employee Christina Galvez writes that flextime was the last perk to working at DOH.
"Dr. Torres has created an environment of low self esteem, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression and mental health problems for her employees," Galvez, who worked as a paralegal, wrote to Gov. Susana Martinez' Chief of Staff Keith Gardner and Torres. "I can't believe the leader in making New Mexico Healthy is causing her own employees to be sick."
View the DOH e-mails and Galvez' letter below: