Morning Word

LFC Says DOH Facilities Pose Risk to Patients Before and During Pandemic

Chile season comes early

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 271 new COVID-19 cases—the highest daily number of new cases since May—bringing the statewide total so far to 207,972. The health department has designated 196,277 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 77 new cases; followed by the Otero County Processing Center, where there were 31 new cases among people being held by federal agencies; and Eddy County with 27 new cases. Santa Fe had nine.

The state also announced five recent deaths; there have now been 4,392 total fatalities. As of yesterday, 94 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Currently, 72.2% New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, with 64.2% in that age group fully vaccinated. Among those 12-17 years old, 45.5% have had at least one dose and 36.5% are fully vaccinated. In Santa Fe County, 82.5% are partially vaccinated and 73.9% are fully vaccinated. You can register for a vaccine here and view available vaccine events by area here.

You can read all of SFR’s COVID-19 coverage here.

NM sees weekly uptick in Delta variant cases

The US overall has seen a recent increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths, which officials say has been fueled by the Delta variant, and is primarily impacting unvaccinated people. In New Mexico, the health department’s most recent report on variants of concern show a total of 87 Delta variant cases have been sequenced—an increase of close to 30 since last week’s report (those numbers, however, are not representative as the state only sequences a sampling of cases). Of the total Delta variant cases, 82% have been matched to actual cases by investigators. Last week, Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase said health officials had initially anticipated the Delta variant to become the dominant strain in New Mexico this month, as it has elsewhere, but now expect it will do so next month. The Alpha strain (B.1.1.7) remains the dominant strain here for now. According to Scrase, more than 96% of cases, nearly 95% of hospitalizations and approximately 98% of deaths in the state are among those who have not yet been vaccinated. More cases of the Delta variant also were detected in Santa Fe County since last week, according to the most recent report: five (versus one, last week). San Juan and Guadalupe counties had the most Delta variant cases detected, 24 and 15, respectively.

LFC reports chronic problems for DOH facilities

new Legislative Finance Committee report says chronic lack of oversight over health department facilities has resulted in “actual harm” to residents in long-term care facilities since 2015 and potentially contributed to the 28 deaths at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home in Truth or Consequences. The report’s other key findings say the department lacks “strong, dedicated leadership over facilities,” in that it went more than three years without a director for facilities management and currently doesn’t have a dedicated deputy secretary for facilities. In addition, the “DOH facilities governing board lacks independence and performs limited oversight of quality of care.” Upon hearing the report yesterday, some state lawmakers described its findings as “scathing” and “unacceptable,” and said they largely support its recommendations, which include establishing a chief executive officer of facilities for the department; formally establishing the DOH facilities governing board in statute; and funding the state share of construction of a replacement for the original building at the New Mexico State Veterans’ Home. Human Services Secretary Dr. David Scrase, who is now also overseeing the health department following Dr. Tracie Collins’ departure this month, said officials generally agreed with the report’s recommendations that “we will fill in to improve management and governance of DOH facilities in the state.”

Feds announce settlement with Christus

The US Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico yesterday said Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center has agreed to pay $563,809.52 to settle claims that former employee Dr. Arthur Caire submitted fraudulent claims to a variety of federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, TRICARE and the Federal Employees Health Benefit Program. The settlement covers the years of Caire’s employment between October 2013 until April 2020 and will reimburse those programs. According to a news release, the hospital self-disclosed concerns about Caire’s billing to the US Attorney’s Office, and then cooperated with its investigation. “Health care providers play an essential role in rooting out and preventing fraud,” Acting US Attorney Fred Federici said in a statement. “We acknowledge and appreciate the hospital’s decision to come forward and cooperate with our investigation.”

Smish alert

If you’ve received any strange texts of late, beware: They may be part of a “smishing” scam, according to an alert yesterday from the State Auditor’s office. “Smishing,” defined as an identity theft scheme that uses cellphone text messaging technology to scam recipients, is apparently a favored (and extremely annoying) technique used by scammers. In the current New Mexico alert, the state Motor Vehicle Division reports that people have been receiving texts from a 972-area code with the message “New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division (MVD) Driver License Waiver Validation. Validate your details below.” Needless to say, do not validate your details as the scam appears geared at stealing Social Security numbers and other identifying information. You can also report these smishes to the state Attorney General’s office here and/or the Federal Trade Commission here.

Listen up

Last month, US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) announced a new federal initiative to review the traumatic legacy of federal boarding school policies, and she spoke recently about this efforts on PBS News HourKUNM’s Let’s Talk New Mexico program will delve into the legacy of New Mexico’s history with these boarding schools at 8 am today, with guests Jolene Holgate, training and education director for the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women; John Gram, author of Education at the Edge of Empire: Negotiating Pueblo Identity in New Mexico’s Indian Boarding SchoolsIndian Pueblo Cultural Center CEO Mike Canfield; and Regis Pecos, co-founder and co-director of the Santa Fe Indian School Leadership Institute. Call in with your own experiences or thoughts to 505-277-5866 or email Listen online or at 89.9 FM.

Travel heroine

A New Mexico woman made Travel and Leisure’s recent anniversary round-up of 50 travelers “who have changed our world for the better.” Jaylyn Gough (Diné) founded Native Women’s Wilderness after observing a lack of representation for women of color, and Indigenous women in particular, in mainstream advertising for travel and outdoor recreation. The organization describes itself as a place “to bring Native women together to share our stories, support each other, and learn from one another as we endeavor to explore and celebrate the wilderness and our native lands.” Gough, herself, is is an avid mountain climber, hiker, mountain biker, climber and landscape photographer. In a 2019 interview about her organization, Gough said of the endeavor, “Our history may be broken. Too many spirits, hearts and lives are broken. The land is crying. But I believe that the only way to reimagine what can be, the only way to heal, is to revisit and connect with the land that connects us all. I think many people who have that connection to the land feel that strength, and honor the land, and honor our ancestors because it’s who we are. It’s engrained in us. To be in the land is to live and breathe for me. I don’t have to think about it. It’s how I get through life.” You can also follow the organization on Instagram.

Chile season starts early

While the smell of roasted green chile normally signals autumn’s arrival, this year it’s happening early and reflects the current weather—happily wet and a little bit cooler—and a change in how farmers are planting. Rather than starting chiles from seed, farmers are sprouting seedlings in a greenhouse before putting them into the ground, thus saving some labor costs and water. Conserving the latter has been of particular importance this year, given widespread drought. “We were really scared in the spring with the water situation we were having and those really high temperatures,” Joram Robbs, executive director of the New Mexico Chile Association, tells the Associated Press. “There wasn’t enough irrigation water.” Robbs say by using the transplant method—a common practice before 1940—farmers eliminate four to six weeks of watering in the spring. Hatch farmer Sergio Grajeda Jr. says he’s been using transplants for about five years, and his main concern is whether people will have room in their freezers for fresh chile after stocking up last year (we will).

Need a new best friend?

If you’ve been considering adopting a new four-legged friend, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society says now is the time. According to a news release, the shelter has had more than 530 animals enter within the last 30 days, has renovated 14 additional emergency kennels and is currently trying to find homes for more than 100 pets—more than 90 puppies and dogs and over 30 kittens and cats. As such, all fees will be waived on all animals 11 am to 5:30 pm, Friday, July 23 through Sunday (100 Caja del Rio). “We continue to be at a critical capacity level and working around the clock to find homes for all of these animals,” Murad Kirdar, public relations officer of the shelter, said in a statement. “If you have thought about adopting a first pet, or have some extra room for one more in your household, we desperately need you to come by the shelter this weekend.” While fees will be waived, adopters will still follow the shelter’s normal protocol, which includes in-person adoption counseling, and may need to pay a city or county license fee. All the animals adopted from the shelter include spay/neuter, microchipping, and age-appropriate vaccinations.

Haze, sun, rain, repeat

Keep your fingers crossed for more scattered showers and thunderstorms today after noon, with the National Weather Service forecasting a 50% chance for rain (some potentially heavy). Otherwise, we’re looking at widespread haze before 9 am and partly sunny skies, with a high near 86 degrees and northeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon.

Thanks for reading! The Word thinks whoever thought to add meditative breathing instructions to the live cam of brown bears at Brooks Falls is kind of a genius.

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