Morning Word

Hospital Leaders Detail Harrowing Nursing Crisis to Legislators

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visits Chaco, hails protections

COVID-19 by the numbers

New Mexico health officials yesterday reported 3,658 new COVID-19 cases for the three-day period of Nov. 20 through Nov. 22, bringing the total number of cases to 305,579; DOH has designated 259,606 of those cases as recovered. Bernalillo County had 993 new cases, followed by Doña Ana County with 737 and 312 in San Juan County. Santa Fe County had 242.

The state also announced 14 new deaths, 13 of them recent; there have now been 5,277 fatalities statewide. As of yesterday, 559 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, 11 more than Friday.

Currently, 85% of New Mexicans 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 74.1% are fully vaccinated. Among that age group, 20.4% have had a booster shot. In the 12-17-year-old age group, 64.2% of people have had at least one dose and 55.4% are fully inoculated. Among children ages 5-11, 12.7% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine. In Santa Fe County, 95.4% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 83.6% are fully vaccinated.

New Mexicans can register for a COVID-19 vaccine here, schedule a COVID-19 vaccine booster here and view a public calendar for vaccine availability here. Parents can add dependents to their vaccine profiles here.

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

Hospitals sound alarm to lawmakers

Representatives from the New Mexico Hospital Association and state hospitals yesterday briefed state lawmakers on the Health and Human Services Committee regarding the pandemic’s impact on hospitals. Troy Clark, president and CEO for NMHA said that $367 million in federal provider relief funds helped offset losses, but hospitals are still $274 million short. Moreover, like the rest of the US, New Mexico already faced a nursing shortage, which has intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Tim Johnsen, a registered nurse and senior vice president and chief operating officer at Presbyterian Healthcare Services, said nurses now face crushing patient loads and exhausting shifts, minus the appreciation from the public that marked the early days of the pandemic. “Our nurses don’t stop at the grocery store in their scrubs anymore,” Johnsen said, because “healthcare, with its masking and vaccination requirements, has become an arena for conflict.” As such, rather than appreciation, nurses are “sneered at” in public. And at the hospital, he said, “in our hallways, our waiting rooms, our ERS and our ICUS... nurses are spat upon, kicked, punched, cussed out and physically assaulted. Daily.” In response, he said, Presbyterian has added security and metal detectors. “I truly never thought I’d have to worry about a nurse’s personal safety while at work,” he said. Nurses are nearly impossible to find and keep, he said, creating an unsustainable situation.

To help address the crisis, hospital officials say they support a draft proposal from the New Mexico Nurses Association, which includes $15 million in recurring funds for nurse education programs, among other initiatives. The hospital representatives also presented their priorities for the 2022 legislative session, which include: short and long-term assistance with workforce shortages; funding to support behavioral health services for health care professionals; and the Health and Human Services Department budget and Medicaid rates—currently, 45% of the state’s residents are enrolled in Medicaid.

Haaland visits NM, hails Chaco protections

Yesterday, US Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (Pueblo of Laguna) met with tribal and governent leaders at Chaco Culture National Historical Park, following last week’s announcement that the Bureau of Land Management would initiate consideration of a 20-year withdrawal of federal lands within a 10-mile radius around Chaco Culture National Historical Park, barring new federal oil and gas leasing on those lands. As a result, no new leases will commence on federal lands for two years while the bureau conducts an environmental analysis and seeks public comment on the proposed administrative withdrawal. “This celebration is decades in the making,” Haaland said yesterday. “Some would even say millennia in the making.” While the plan has a great deal of tribal support—Acoma Pueblo Gov. Brian Vallo called the Interior decision to pursue a mineral withdrawal an “answer to prayers.”—the Navajo Nation, which oversees much of the land around the park, wants to see a 5-mile buffer they say is needed to protect individual Navajos who received allotments from the federal government decades ago; the Associated Press reports signs supporting allottees, with one reading: “Our land, our minerals. We support oil and gas.” Last week, the 24th Navajo Nation Council issued a statement opposing the 20-year ban. “There are numerous Navajo cultural resource sites across the eastern portion of the Navajo Nation where Navajo allottees will be impacted,” Navajo Nation Council Budget and Finance Chairman Jamie Henio (Alamo, Ramah, Tóhajiilee) said in a statement. “Congress commissioned a cultural resource investigation to be performed by cultural experts within the Chaco Canyon region that is still ongoing. The Biden Administration must wait until study results are completed before initiating this 20-year withdrawal. It is through our nation to nation relationship that our sovereignty is inherently important and should be respected at all costs.”

NMED says most residents have access to healthy air, water

The state department yesterday announced a new and, according to a news release, “first-of-its kind” performance assessment report that evaluates both public health and environmental conditions. Developed by the department’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, the report evaluates 47 performance measures over five broad categories: public health; environmental protection; compliance measures; economic investment measures; and operational measures. Highlights from the report include the following stats: More than 96% of New Mexicans are breathing air that meets federal health standards and over 94% of New Mexicans are served safe and healthy drinking water; Just over 8% of the restaurants and food manufacturers inspected did not meet at least one health standard; fewer than 1% of underground petroleum storage tank sites were cleaned up compared to the total number of leaking underground petroleum storage tank sites remaining. “The Environment Department continues to embrace transparency as part of its mission and operations,” NMED Cabinet Secretary James Kenney said in a statement. “Our performance assessment report will provide further insight into our accomplishments and challenges for the public to see.”

Listen up

Come next month, lawmakers will tackle New Mexico’s redistricting process after a Citizen Redistricting Commission approved a series of new election maps for consideration by the Legislature. Whether lawmakers will heed those suggestions or make changes remains to be seen, as does how or if the process can proceed in a non-partisan manner. On the most recent episode of New Mexico PBS’ New Mexico In Focus, host Gene Grant talks with Dick Mason, action chair for the League of Women Voters New Mexico, and Kathleen Burke, project coordinator for Fair Districts New Mexico, for more background and analysis on redistricting, while “The Line Panel” discusses the impact of recent high-profile changes in Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s administration.

Tortilla miracle

On an October morning in 1977, Maria Rubio was in her home in Lake Arthur making her husband’s lunch: burritos, which included preparing tortillas from scratch. You probably know where this story is heading. Yes, she saw the face of Jesus Christ, in profile, complete with beard and crown. Rubio and her daughter Rosy were excited; her husband Eduardo worried it might be a bad omen. Slate magazine revisits the story, “Jesus Christ on a Tortilla,” which also recently launched the new season of its podcast One Year. “In the years that followed,” Josh Levin writes in the story, “Maria Rubio would be besieged by believers and gawkers and the national press. She’d be called a visionary, and a fool. But for the Rubios, the tortilla wasn’t just a public spectacle. It was the miracle that changed their family. And 44 years later, they’re still reckoning with the way it upended their lives.” The story also interviews the Rubios’ youngest daughter, Angelica, now a Democratic state representative for Las Cruces. According to Slate, Maria thought Angelica’s birth, which came two years after she saw Jesus on the tortilla, was related because she had previously been told she couldn’t have more children. “That made Angelica feel special. ‘But I also know,’ she says, ‘that so many of my own emotional issues have a lot to do with this huge idea of what the tortilla was.’” (Angelica Rubio wrote about the experience herself several years ago for Eater).

Soup’s on

Yes, we may be slightly obsessed with food and soup this week, but we’re not alone. Vinaigrette, our favorite salad joint, recently kicked off its annual Around the World in 40 Soups promotion, with this year’s event dedicated to Matt Kubarski, a Vinaigrette customer who died in 2021. The restaurant notes on its website: “We knew Matt as a gracious, kind, always smiling guest who was an incredible appreciator of soups—he was @Soupman1927 on Instagram and won our AW40S competition every year. Meaning, he tasted EVERY SINGLE WORLD SOUP. Even when one of our soups didn’t suit his fancy (like the tripe-laden Philadelphia Pepper Pot, for instance, not a big crowd pleaser), he was gracious and polite, saying ‘Well, I’m not sure I’ll try that one again.’” We’re a little late to the party—the soups began Nov. 11, but there’s lots left to slurp. You can pick up a soup passport at Vinaigrette and possibly win prizes, depending on how many stamps you collect (aka how many soups you try), including a stay at a local hotel plus swag from Vinaigrette if you try all 40. This year’s soup-off also includes weekly stories, with Vinaigrette noting: “All soups tell a story—about passage, migration, melding, geography, climate, trade, loss, love. And, the larger narrative of soups tells the story of cooking—how we came to gather around a vessel, suspended over fire, transforming the raw into the cooked. Some anthropologists consider it both the beginning of culture and a perfect symbol for it.” Last week’s story, for instance, included some pretty detailed instructions on how to make dashi for Hot Soba Soup.

Right as rain

Today will be mostly sunny, with a high near 56 degrees and north wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Tonight, however, the National Weather Service forecasts a 50% chance of showers after 11 pm, possibly continuing into Wednesday morning.

Thanks for reading! The Word was a little surprised to see the New York Times Notable Books of 2021 list out already, but is now looking forward to reading over the coming holiday season.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.