Morning Word

NM Ranks Last for Child Well-Being

State distributes $15 mil to expand nursing programs

NM ranks last for child well-being

Despite improvements in most indicators, New Mexico ranks 50th in the US for child well-being, according to the 2022 Kids Count Data Book, a 50-state report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation released yesterday. The data book examines 16 indicators, including child poverty; high school graduation rates; and teen birth rates, grouped in the larger brackets of economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. This year, the book also includes data on the increases in children experiencing anxiety or depression during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. The most recent rankings use data from 2016 to 2020, which showed the COVID-19 pandemic offset many of the state’s improvements, and also does not incorporate recent policy changes (the state ranked 49th last year and 50th for the three years prior). “In recent years, New Mexico has been a leader in putting children first in public policy,” Amber Wallin, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children, which runs the state’s KIDS COUNT program, said in a statement. “However, the COVID pandemic caused major challenges for families that blunted the progress New Mexico had been making to improve child well-being. Fortunately, we expect that the many good policy decisions enacted since 2019—including tax credits for workers with children and expansions in high-quality affordable child care—will put us back on the path to improvement and create opportunities for all New Mexico children to thrive.” Voices for Children will hold its annual Kids Count conference, which will review the new data and policy issues, on Aug. 18.

Board names dispatch director

After several months of serving as interim director for Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center, Roberto Lujan now has the job. The Santa Fe Regional Emergency Communications Center Board of Directors unanimously recommended the appointment at its Aug. 4 meeting; Lujan has served as interim director since May. The city and county jointly manage the 911 dispatch center. “I’ve already seen improvements in the RECC since Mr. Lujan became the interim director,” Santa Fe Fire Department Chief Brian Moya said in a statement. “Given his seniority and experience, he knows where the RECC needs to go.” Lujan, a Santa Fe native, began at the county as a dispatcher, then worked in Los Alamos as a supervisor before returning to Santa Fe County. “I had family working in public safety and always had an interest in becoming a first responder,” Lujan said in a statement. “However, when I began dispatching, I immediately knew that this would be my lifelong role in public safety. It allowed me to help not only the public, but to be the lifeline between public safety responders and the community.” In July, the Santa Fe County Commission approved salary increases to address staffing issues at the center, and hiring bonuses also are in place. “We are all working together to recruit qualified staff so that we have all positions filled,” Lujan says.

Nursing program expansion underway

The state has begun distributing $15 million to higher education institutions across New Mexico to expand nursing programs, including approximately $1.1 million to Santa Fe Community College. The funds, which come via the American Rescue Act, can be used to add spots for pre-licensure nursing students; recruit high school students; and retain nursing faculty, among other initiatives. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office announced the distribution of funds—one of several actions taken to address ongoing nursing shortages—as the University of New Mexico broke ground yesterday on a new $43.3 million “state-of-the-art” College of Nursing and Public Health Excellence Building. “New Mexico, like the rest of the country, is faced with a critical shortage of nurses,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “By investing in the state’s largest nursing program and providing additional resources to programs around New Mexico, we are going to see real progress toward meeting our goal of a healthy nursing workforce.”

COVID-19 by the numbers

Reported Aug. 8

New cases: 1,798 (includes the weekend); 598,395 total cases

Deaths: six; Santa Fe County has had 331 total deaths; there have been 8,288 total fatalities statewide. Statewide hospitalizations: 122. Patients on ventilators: four

Case rates: According to the state health department’s most recent report on geographical trends for the seven-day period of July 25-31, McKinley County had the highest daily case rate per 100,000 population: 68.2, followed by Roosevelt County at 66.8 and Doña Ana County at 55.2; Santa Fe County’s case rate was 42.2, a decline from 46.6 the prior week. The state recorded 6,300 total cases statewide over the seven-day period, a 5% decrease from the previous week.

Community levels: The CDC’s most recent update for COVID-19 “community levels,” which updates on Thursdays, shows some improvement from the week before. The CDC framework combines case rates with two hospital metrics and shows eight counties—three fewer than last week—have “red” or high levels for the seven-day reporting period. Santa Fe County remains “yellow” or medium. Seven counties—the same as last week—have “green” or low levels. The community levels page has accompanying recommendations at the bottom of the page. The CDC also provides a quarantine and isolation calculator.

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. Vaccines for children: Parents of children ages 6 months to 5 years can now schedule appointments for vaccinations at

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

Listen up

For the five-year anniversary episode of Our Land, the weekly environmental program from New Mexico In Focus on PBS, host and award-winning environmental journalist Laura Paskus takes a look back at the stories that have helped explain the science and people behind New Mexico’s environmental triumphs and challenges. Climate change serves as the backdrop for many of those challenges, but the show also highlights the love and sense of place by those fighting to conserve the state’s water and lands.

Homegrown action hero

Both the New York Times and The Hollywood Reporter talk with New Mexico native Amber Midthunder, the first Indigenous actress to star as an action hero with her role as Naru in Prey (the Predator origin story, set in the Comanche Nation 300 years ago). Born on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, Midthunder is a member of the Fort Peck Sioux tribe and grew up mostly in Santa Fe “with stints in California and Florida,” the Times notes. She’s also appeared in Legion, was a regular on Roswell, New Mexico and in The Ice Road alongside Liam Neeson, among other roles. Her parents are both in the business as well: Her mother is a casting agent; her father David Midthunder has roles in both Westworld and Dark Winds. David Midthunder talked with his daughter from an early age about the problematic portrayals of Indigenous people in popular media: “Oftentimes in period pieces we’re boiled down to a hyper-spiritualized figure or this violent savage caricature,” she tells the Times. “It affects you when you hardly ever see anybody who looks like you or represents you. That does something to your psyche, where you wonder, like, ‘Oh, are we just not good enough? Or is that really how people see us?’” As a result, she tells THR, “I have been very intentional about not doing a lot of like Indigenous specific roles.” But the Prey production brought both accuracy and representation to the table, with commitment to details such as making a period-accurate toothbrush Midthunder’s character uses and casting her in a central role. Writer Allie Young (Diné), also born on the Navajo reservation in New Mexico, speaks with Midthunder for InStyle magazine about the importance of that representation for future generations. “For rez kids to look at somebody who looks like them and be like, She was born in Shiprock, I’m from Shiprock. My reservation is Fort Peck, so to be like, Oh, she’s enrolled at Fort Peck, I’m from Fort Peck, and know that it’s possible,” Midthunder says.

Horror/thriller Dust to film in NM in August

In the movie Dust from Searchlight Pictures, Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story) will portray a woman “trapped by increasingly perilous dust storms,” and “haunted by her past who encounters a threatening presence and takes extraordinary measures to protect her family.” The film starts principal photography this month in and around Stanley, Santa Fe and Galisteo, according to the state Film Office, and will employ approximately 152 New Mexico crew members and 153 New Mexico background talent. Deadline describes the movie as a “horror thriller,” which will also star Annaleigh Ashford (both Paulson and Ashford appeared in American Crime Story: Impeachment) and stream on Disney’s DTC platforms as a Hulu Original in the US. The script is reportedly based on co-director and Westworld writer Karrie Crouse’s script from the Sundance Writers’ Lab and set in 1930s Oklahoma. Paulson replaced Claire Foy, who was originally cast for the role of the mother.

Rain and/or shine

Another day of potential scattered showers and thunderstorms, according to the National Weather Service, which forecasts those storms starting primarily after 3 pm, with a 60% chance of precipitation, some of which could be heavy rain. Otherwise, it will be mostly sunny with a high near 86 degrees. The likelihood of rain reduces to 40% this evening, mostly before midnight. The Santa Fe National Forest yesterday announced a temporary closure for a segment of Forest Road on the Jemez Ranger District due to falling rock and debris impacting the Gilman Tunnels. According to a news release, road crews have removed boulder-sized rocks and debris that have fallen onto the road with the recent rainfall, but more slides and rockfall are anticipated, and the closure will continue through monsoon season. Santa Fe County also recently announced the Rio En Medio open space will remain closed following a recent and major flash flooding event. Lastly, while it’s challenging to grock a bright side to flooding (which remains a concern in the Hermits Peak/Calf Canyon burn scar), the New York Times reports on the ecological benefit floods can play for rivers where dams have impacted the natural ecology, such as New Mexico’s Rio Grande.

Thanks for reading! The Word plans to watch Grease (for the 300th time) in the near future in honor of the great Olivia Newton John.

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