Rio Rancho retirement community on lockdown after resident tests positive for COVID-19

A Rio Rancho retirement and assisted living facility announced a lockdown Sunday after learning a resident had tested positive for COVID-19, New Mexico In Depth has confirmed. The resident is no longer on site, said a company spokesman, who  declined to provide further information about the individual. 

The resident appears to be the first publicly confirmed case in a New Mexico senior living facility, but it is difficult to say with certainty. State officials have offered few details about who has contracted COVID-19 in New Mexico. 

Senior living facilities are particularly vulnerable during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which specifically names nursing homes as high risk facilities. Like nursing homes, senior living and retirement communities are home to groups of  “older adults often with underlying chronic medical conditions,” a high risk category for COVID-19. After the test came back positive, the Rio Grande Gracious Retirement Living facility ordered residents to remain in their apartments, one tenant and a company spokesman confirmed Tuesday evening. 

“We are locked down because we had one case in our community,” said resident Scott Houghteling, reached on his cell phone at his apartment.

Navajo Nation readies extra medical stations, urges New Mexico to prepare for Navajo medical needs

A federal medical station with 58 beds for COVID-19 patients is being established on the Navajo reservation at the community center in Chinle, Ariz. The beds and supplies were delivered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but it’s not enough said Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez. “In speaking with the health care experts, the supplies that were delivered won’t last a full week, but we’re continuing to work hard every day to bring more and more resources. The Navajo Nation is also stepping up and using our own funds from the $4 million appropriation that was approved recently,” said Nez in a press release. In Tuba City, Ariz, authorities are setting up tent facilities to use as medical stations at the local fairgrounds.

This VA hospital cited “misleading” data to restrict mask use for healthcare workers

Hospital employees across the country have been blocked from wearing surgical masks in certain situations to protect against infection by the new coronavirus — including those they bring to work themselves. Workers at the Raymond G. Murphy VA Medical Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico, have been told not to wear face masks unless they have lingering respiratory symptoms after an illness, are under surveillance following COVID-19 exposure or are treating patients showing signs of COVID-19. 

The restriction on wearing masks comes amid widespread shortages of personal protective equipment for health workers and confusion over shifting guidelines from federal officials. Such restrictions are in place at other hospitals, but there’s no indication yet that the practice is widespread. “There is little data that wearing surgical masks in general protect[s] the wearer from becoming infected with COVID-19, while giving the wearer a false sense of protection,” Andrew M. Welch, medical center director for the New Mexico VA Health Care System, noted in a Wednesday email obtained by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. On Friday morning, Welch sent staff another email responding to workers’ concerns about the mask ban.

Stay at home order a ‘perfect recipe for a nightmare’ of domestic violence

With the latest order from the governor’s office asking all New Mexicans to stay home except for issues of health and safety – like grocery shopping or going to a doctor – victims of domestic violence may be stuck in their homes, too, with their abusers. “This is probably an abuser’s dream,” said Jessica Fierro, a victim advocacy unit director for the Domestic Violence Resource Center in Albuquerque. “It’s the perfect recipe for a nightmare.”

The Centers for Disease Control list unemployment and social isolation, both consequences of efforts to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus, as risk factors for violence. “Things are very scary and unsure and uncertain, and that just puts even more stress on our victims of domestic violence and on the offenders,” Fierro said. 

Most organizations are adapting to reach clients and meet the needs of domestic violence victims.

The DVRC is strengthening its telecommunications services, Fierro said, to help as many people as it can after shutting down its face-to-face operations. 

The DVRC’s 24/7 hotline automatically transfers to one of its employees working from home. That person can then direct the caller to the service or staff member that can best help them. 

Once a caller connects through the main office, a staff member will connect the caller with  an advocate who can help the caller over the phone, so no person-to-person contact is needed. 

“If they just want to talk to somebody and maybe just vent, we’re there for that as well,” Fierro said.

Hospital workers express worry about lack of testing, protective gear

Frontline clinicians in Albuquerque — the hospital workers most likely to come into direct contact with contagious patients — face rationing of personal protective equipment, or PPE, and are not being tested for COVID-19 unless they start to show symptoms, hospital officials and state officials have confirmed. 

So far, nine patients have been hospitalized in New Mexico, including one Arizona resident, the governor said Monday. 

But hospitals are preparing for many more. Presbyterian hospitals in Albuquerque and elsewhere in the state are setting up outdoor triage and intake tents, for example. Some hospital workers are concerned they could infect patients and peers before they develop COVID symptoms, or take the disease home to loved ones. 

“We expect to catch it, especially in the [Emergency Department],” one Albuquerque emergency room nurse told New Mexico In Depth, which is withholding that person’s name because of a fear of employer retribution. “Health care workers have rights to PPE and that right is being violated. We are being given equipment but [are] asked to reuse it in an unsafe manner.

Citing COVID-19, Sandoval County attorney seeks court order to release non-violent inmates

Commissioners for New Mexico’s fourth largest county on Thursday asked a judge to release non-violent jail inmates “during the State of Emergency caused by the COVID-19 virus,” New Mexico In Depth has learned. Sandoval County Attorney Robin Hammer on Thursday filed a three-page petition for writ of mandamus — a fast-tracking procedure used in exceptional circumstances — asking the District Court to blunt the “serious health risk” of the new coronavirus to those inside the jail by releasing people immediately. Hammer’s petition also asks the court to prohibit future bookings of anyone else charged with a misdemeanor or non-violent felony into the detention center until Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham lifts her State of Emergency declaration. The petition is set to be heard Tuesday by Chief District Judge George Eichwald. The move marks the first time a voice from outside New Mexico’s criminal defense community has called for releasing inmates amid the growing COVID-19 crisis.

Attorney alleges ‘deliberate indifference’ to COVID-19 in NM prisons, threatens legal action

A group of more than two dozen New Mexico prison inmates, many with compromised immune systems, are considering legal claims against the state Corrections Department for its “gross negligence and deliberate indifference to the dangers of COVID-19,” according to documents obtained by SFR and New Mexico In Depth. As the rest of New Mexico remains under an order against gatherings of over 50 people and pleas from officials to practice social distancing, the state’s prison system has not tested any of the thousands of inmates locked up or the corrections officers guarding them. And there do not appear to be contingency plans in place should an outbreak occur. Parrish Collins, an Albuquerque-based attorney who specializes in civil rights, visited clients at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas on March 9, he wrote in a notice sent to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and corrections officials four days later. An officer told him the minimum-security lockup “was taking no precautions against coronavirus.”

“It was indicated that it was not a serious threat and there was nothing to worry about,” Collins wrote in the notice.

Racial discrimination claims against Hobbs Police draw unexpected rebuttal

Shannon Kennedy was “shocked” when she came across a document filed by the defense for the Hobbs Police Department while preparing for a sweeping civil rights trial focused on allegations of racist policing. The well-known Albuquerque lawyer and her partners had hired a police practices expert and a demographer to investigate claims by three former Hobbs Police Department officers, their clients, that department brass pushed them out for raising concerns about targeting black and Hispanic communities. 

The demographer produced a detailed, 15-page report that showed Hobbs PD made a majority of “pedestrian stops” in the city’s heavily black and Hispanic south end and that non-whites were far more likely to find themselves detained by officers in such stops. The demographer’s report, which relied on population mapping and data analysis, was dated July 30, 2019. A few months later, lawyers representing the city of Hobbs, which has a documented history of discriminatory policing, hired its own expert to produce a report on “the perceived issues in the case.” The resulting two-and-a-half-page document says simply the methodology used by the plaintiffs’ demographer — examining stop, detention and arrest rates in certain locations — is “an ineffective and flawed measure” of policing. The report does not address the demographer’s findings.

Carlsbad wrestles with oil, gas boom

Seated on the floor of First Christian Church on a recent Sunday morning, Pastor Dave Rogers pierces the heart of a debate in Carlsbad as it adapts to a historic oil and natural gas boom. Rogers recounts to three children the parable of the Good Samaritan. A man from a despised group helps a traveler beaten, robbed and left for dead after religious passers-by ignore him. “I wonder what it’s like to be a neighbor to somebody we don’t know and that needs our help,” Rogers asks his young listeners as a dozen or so adults, mostly senior citizens, look on. Welcoming strangers and helping neighbors are values many in the small congregation – and broader community – identify with Carlsbad.

Are New Mexico’s hospitals shortchanging community health?

In Albuquerque’s poorest neighborhoods where few grocers offer healthy produce, a cornucopia of subsidized fruits and vegetables for hundreds of families. In San Juan County, where more than one in 10 residents is diabetic, personalized classes to help participants reduce their risk of developing the disease by incorporating physical activity and healthy eating into their daily lives. And in Santa Fe County, where dozens of people die each year of drug overdoses, a facility where anyone with a substance abuse disorder can walk in to get sober, and then hopefully move on to treatment and recovery. What connects these otherwise disparate public health initiatives, and others around the state, is that they are supported, in part, by millions of dollars from the state’s nonprofit hospitals. It’s not simple generosity that motivates the largesse.