It’s been three years since I began work for NM Political Report focused on politics and what are often referred to as “women’s issues.” It’s phrasing I reflexively shy away from, as there are few issues not relevant to women. Areas like reproductive health and access relate to everyone, regardless of background and gender identity—they’re relevant to every family, no matter their composition or belief systems.
Yet many public policies have disproportionate effects on women and families with children. Protections for pregnant workers, for example, were among the proposals I followed in 2015 and were among the many which failed to garner enough support from lawmakers. I also covered public policy and discourse related to abortion, which bears heavy baggage in simple utterance of the word. Then, the local atmosphere surrounding abortion felt both disconcertingly polarized and exhausted.
A state investigation prompted by a congressional panel and anti-abortion activists found no criminal wrongdoing by Southwestern Women’s Options (SWWO) or the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center over fetal tissue donations. New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas sent letters to the members of the House Select Panel on Infant Lives, including chairwoman Marsha Blackburn, R-Tennessee. Blackburn complained to Balderas last June that SWWO appeared to have violated two state laws: The Jonathan Spradling Revised Uniform Anatomical Gift Act, or Spradling Act, and the Maternal, Fetal and Infant Experimentation Act (MFIEA). After its months-long investigation, the Attorney General’s office said donations from SWWO to UNM did not violate either law. “We are pleased that the New Mexico Attorney General confirmed that the University of New Mexico did not violate any state laws,” UNM Health Sciences Center spokeswoman Alex Sanchez told NM Political Report in a statement.
The outcome of a recent lawsuit against the University of New Mexico and its medical school probably isn’t sitting well with some medical staff. A settlement over the university’s alleged mishandling of a reported rape cost staff their year-end bonus. That’s according to a department head who broke the news to his faculty, via email, about a month before Christmas last year. UNM settled a lawsuit filed by former anesthesiology resident Cynthia Herald in November for an undisclosed amount, but it was significant enough to impact her former department. A closer look at why that’s happening reveals that it may be unprecedented for an individual department to bear the brunt of a payout like the one Herald received.
Gov. Susana Martinez named a former cabinet member to the University of New Mexico Board of Regents, a panel that has come under scrutiny in recent months after other Martinez appointees spearheaded the takeover the UNM Health Sciences Center. Tom Clifford recently retired as cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration. Clifford worked for 20 years in state government, through multiple gubernatorial administrations. Martinez did not issue a statement on the appointment as she typically does for high-profile appointments. Her office did provide background for Clifford, mentioning his time as the policy and research director for the state’s Taxation and Revenue Department and his ten years working for the federal government.
Last month University of New Mexico Regent Rob Doughty shepherded to success a little-scrutinized plan to restructure the leadership and governance of the university’s Health Sciences Center. As one of the plan’s architects, Doughty also kept the plan secret — from the public, medical staff at UNM Hospital and at least two of Doughty’s fellow regents in the weeks before a March 14 vote that set the restructuring in stone. Now, the black hole of information surrounding how the plan came to be is growing murkier. New Mexico In Depth has learned that Doughty deleted emails he sent and received in the weeks leading up to the last-minute, controversial vote that changed oversight of UNM’s Health Sciences Center, which has an annual budget of $1.9 billion. The change did away with a board composed of community members and regents and replaced it with a panel of three regents, who are political appointees of Gov. Susana Martinez.
Mary Kay Papen is the President Pro Tem of the New Mexico State Senate and a Democrat that represents District 38. I am concerned that the overnight dissolution of the board of directors of the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (HSC) by the University of New Mexico (UNM) board of regents could jeopardize the long-term viability of the HSC as a leading national academic medical center. The speed of this decision raises red flags and could affect the accreditation of both UNM and the HSC, since accrediting bodies require institutional autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the institution and assure its integrity. The HSC is New Mexico’s only accredited academic medical center, one of 126 in the nation that combine teaching, clinical care and research. It includes: the state’s only school of medicine, five of whose departments rank among the top 40 National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant-funded departments in the nation; colleges of nursing and pharmacy; a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center; and the Clinical and Translational Science Center, one of only 62 NIH-funded medical research institutions in a national consortium whose goal is to accelerate the translation of laboratory discoveries into treatments for patients.
Terry Brunner is an Albuquerque resident and these views are his own There’s a disturbing trend going on in New Mexico of major public policy issues being pursued without adequate public input and evaluation. The recent decision by the University of New Mexico (UNM) Board of Regents to bring control of the Health Sciences Center under their authority and the City of Albuquerque’s pursuit of the Albuquerque Rapid Transit Project are two recent examples. In both cases the public felt shortchanged. The UNM Regents rushed through a decision affecting UNM’s nationally-recognized health programs with one public hearing. A proposal of this magnitude was surely in the works for a while.
NM Political Report has learned the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center is resisting part of a subpoena from a U.S. congressional panel conducting an investigation into local abortion providers. In a Thursday email to Health Sciences Center employees obtained by NM Political Report, Chancellor Paul Roth writes that UNM plans to fight a portion of the subpoena that asks for “the names of faculty, staff, residents and students who participated” in fetal tissue research conducted by the university. “I am concerned that supplying this information would potentially endanger the safety of faculty, staff and students on our campus,” Roth wrote. “We are working to clarify and revise this request for personally identifiable information and its relevance to the stated charge of the Select Panel.”
Roth added that he is “steadfast” in his “commitment to ensuring the safety of everyone on our campus, as well as cultivating an environment that fosters freedom of thought and scientific inquiry.”
Roth’s email comes after another Albuquerque women’s health clinic, Southwest Women’s Options, similarly promised to resist part of another subpoena by the Congressional Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives asking for five years of employee information. UNM and Southwest Women’s Options both offer abortion procedures to women.