Morning Word

Cancer Care Docs Say Christus Hardball Leaves Patients in Limbo

Planning Commission punts South Meadows rezoning request again

Cancer services shakeup

Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center has moved to terminate its contract with New Mexico Cancer Care Associates at the end of next month and plans to create its own cancer-care facility next year, a decision the NMCCA says will leave 4,000 patients without doctors and treatment plans. The contract was set to close out at the end of the year, with a transition plan in place for the patients, but the early termination is creating turmoil. The cancer group declined to enter into an agreement to make all its physicians and staff employees of the hospital and turn over management of the clinic to Christus. The termination quickly followed, the group says. “It’s unreasonable that Christus would want to abruptly leave cancer patients without their chosen doctors at a crucial time in their treatment,” Dr. Karen LoRusso, an oncologist at NMCCA, writes in a statement. “As cancer doctors, we are deeply troubled that Christus has not indicated how they intend to care for these thousands of patients.” Hospital spokesman Arturo Delgado says the contract termination is part of the larger plan, noting “NMCCA let us know months ago of their decision to move away from their exclusive relationship with the hospital, and we have honored their decision. Therefore, we have initiated steps to engage in a patient-focused transition plan; however, they have not been open to those discussions.” Dr. Kathryn Chan, president of NMCCA, sums up her view of the call: “The message from Christus is that if you don’t want to work with them exclusively, or work as employees for the hospital, they don’t want to work with you, regardless of what’s best for the patients.” Chan told the Santa Fe New Mexican the cancer group expects to go to court to stop early termination of the contract if pending mediation is not successful.

No decision on Southside open space rezoning

The Santa Fe Planning Commission last night again postponed a vote on rezoning for a proposed development on the Southside that would replace a county-owned open space with housing. The neighbors of the envisioned Los Prados development from Homewise on South Meadows have argued that the county’s quiet decision to sell the land was a violation of public trust and the state auditor is investigating the process. Homewise, a nonprofit affordable housing developer, wants to build 161 single-family units on the 22-acre parcel. The nonprofit has the right to terminate the $1.7 million purchase agreement if it cannot come up with the necessary zoning and development rights for its intended use of the property. The last day to get the approval under that agreement is May 6, although the county and Homewise could negotiate an extension. With housing prices continuing to climb and inventory low, affordable housing “is definitely a need” in Santa Fe, said Commissioner Daniel Pava, but so is access to park land and other quality-of-life issues, particularly on the Southside. “I can’t imagine if somebody wanted to come up Canyon Road and turn Patrick Smith Park into a housing development and, yet, we look at that differently for whatever reasons—because of demographic differences,” he said.

Air Force eyes NM for Space Force

Kirtland Air Force Base is in the running to house a component of the US Space Force training and testing program. The Air Force this week announced the Albuquerque base is a candidate for the Delta 11 and Delta 12 components of the STARCOM initiative. The base, along with Schriever Space Force Base in Colorado, is under consideration because it already “delivers realistic, threat-informed test and training environments through the provision of live, virtual, and constructive range and combat replication capability,” according to the Air Force. The STARCOM testing program is aimed at preparing the Space Force to win future wars, or as the Air Force put it, “to prevail in a contested, degraded, and operationally-limited environment.” The base hosts the Air Force Research Laboratory Space Vehicles Directorate and other space projects already. “New Mexico is the future of space. We are home to an ideal climate, leading public and private space innovators, and an exceptional training pipeline for the growing science and engineering workforce,” US Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee that oversees military construction funding, said in a statement. “Kirtland Air Force Base has also built an exceptional track record of supporting training missions and testing and evaluation of important space capabilities. I have full confidence that Space Force leadership will determine that this is the ideal location for these STARCOM missions.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported April 7:

New cases: 126; 518,820 total cases

Deaths: 18; Santa Fe County has had 266 total deaths; there have been 7,351 total fatalities statewide. Hospitalizations: 63; Patients on ventilators: 6

Breakthrough cases: According to the weekly vaccination report, over the four-week period of March 7 through April 4, 38.5% of COVID-19 cases in New Mexico were among people who had not completed a primary vaccination series; 24.5% were among those who had completed the series but had not received a booster; and 36.9% were among those who were fully vaccinated and boosted. For hospitalizations, those figures change to 61%,18.6% and 20.4%. The percentages shift to 54.5%, 20% and 25.5% for fatalities.

Community transmission: According to the health department’s community transmission report for the two-week period of March 22 through April 4, only DeBaca County has low transmission. Nineteen counties have moderate transmission; 11, including Santa Fe County, have substantial transmission; and two have high rates of transmission. According to the report, Santa Fe County had 177 new cases during that two-week period and has a daily case per 100,000 population of 8.4. According to the most recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “community levels” tracking system—which uses case rates along with two hospital metrics in combination to determine the state of the virus on a county level—31 of New Mexico’s counties—including Santa Fe County currently have “green”—aka low—levels, whereas Hidalgo County has a yellow, or medium, level. The CDC updates its map on Thursdays.

Vaccinations: 91% percent of adults 18 years and older have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 77.8% have completed their primary series; 46% of adults 18 years and older have had a booster shot; 12-17-year-old age group: 71.3% of people have had at least one dose and 61.7% have completed their primary series; Children ages 5-11: 39.3% have had at least one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and 31.5% have completed their primary. Santa Fe County: 99% of people 18 and older have had at least one dose and 87.4% have completed their primary series.

Resources: Vaccine registration; Booster registration Free at-home rapid antigen tests; Self-report a positive COVID-19 test result to the health department; COVID-19 treatment info: oral treatments Paxlovid (age 12+) and Molnupiravir (age 18+); and monoclonal antibody treatments. Toolkit for immunocompromised individuals. People seeking treatment who do not have a medical provider can call NMDOH’s COVID-19 hotline at 1-855-600-3453.

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

Listen up

On the most recent episode of the Ag This Week podcast, sponsored by the New Mexico Farm & Livestock Bureau, Rio Arriba County F&LB President Donald Martinez discusses the devastation of his hay pasture from drought and elk. Other guests include Katelin Spradley, coordinator of the NMF&LB Women’s Leadership Program; and Kristie Garcia, director of public affairs for the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

Just say no

Santa Fe National Forest officials want people to enjoy the green, but not when it’s in the form of cannabis. Despite New Mexico’s new status as a state where adults can buy and possess legal weed, they can’t consume it legally on federal land. That’s because, under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. “The possession of marijuana on federal lands is illegal and subject to federal enforcement,” the Forest Service writes in a recent news release. Further, current rules allow Forest Service law enforcement officers to issue citations to violators. Possessing, storing or transporting marijuana in the forest is punishable as a Class B misdemeanor by a fine of no more than $5,000 for individuals and $10,000 for organizations and/or imprisonment for not more than six months. Where is the safest place to smoke? Your own property. ICYMI, SFR explored the topic in this recent story. Albuquerque recently presented its proposed zoning rules for consumption areas in the city; Santa Fe has not yet done so.

In bloom

The Santa Fe Botanical Garden’s fruit orchard being on the verge of bloom is just one of the reasons to visit the Museum Hill treasure this season. Join a public tour with garden staff and trained docent volunteers throughout April every Friday and Saturday starting at 11 am, free with garden admission. Tours last 35 to 40 minutes, cover terrain throughout the garden and draw from its “mission to celebrate, cultivate, and conserve the rich botanical heritage and biodiversity of our region.” Yes, it’s not just about plants (many of which, admittedly, remained dormant on our Thursday afternoon walk). The property also features art incorporating glass in the theme of the current exhibition in the outdoor space, including works from five artists who draw on nature. For those up for a few more steps, check out the newly opened trail in a restoration area that straddles the Arroyo de los Pinos called “Piñon and Juniper Woodland.”

Welcome to the weekend

Santa Fe is forecast to be sunny today with a high near 64 and east wind 5 to 10 mph becoming west in the afternoon, leading to a calm night with a low around 39. High temps on Saturday could reach 71, with a slightly cooler high of 68 predicted for Sunday, according to the National Weather Service. Firefighters say the conditions appear favorable to limit fire spread and increase containment on a 150-acre blaze reported late Thursday in Gallinas Canyon about 12 miles northwest of Las Vegas in the Pecos/Las Vegas Ranger District and extending into the Pecos Wilderness. The Hermit Peak Fire began as a prescribed burn.

Thanks for reading! The Substitute Word appreciates the idea of applying a playful spirit to the hard topic of prolonged drought and species endangerment, featured in this segment of Our Land on New Mexico PBS about Conservation Carnivale’s environmental education mission.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to give the correct name for New Mexico Cancer Care Associates.

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