Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed two bills on Thursday that impact student health: one bill codifies School-Based Health Centers into state statute and the other will make free menstrual products available in every public school. HB 134, sponsored by state Rep. Christine Trujillo, D-Albuquerque, requires a menstrual product dispensary in every girl’s bathroom in every public elementary, middle and high school and one placed in one boy’s bathroom in each school. The products will be free and several young women spoke during the legislative session, testifying during committee hearings about the need for these products to eliminate shame and help students stay focused on their studies and school sports. SB 397, sponsored by state Sen. Nancy Rodriguez, D-Santa Fe, does not make any changes to school-based health centers, but it does codify them into state statute to prevent the possibility that they could be eliminated based on political whim in the future.
School-based health centers have been in existence in New Mexico for 25 years. The majority receive funding through the New Mexico Department of Health and DOH helps with logistics, but the local school districts determine if they want one and, if they do, what sorts of services are provided and which provider the school contracts with.
The New Mexico Department of Health will request $2 million for the family planning and women’s reproductive health services from the New Mexico Legislature to replace reductions in federal funds to maintain current family planning services. The $2 million is part of an 11 percent increase DOH is requesting from the Legislature in 2023. According to a news release, DOH is asking for the increase in its Fiscal Year 2024 budget request due to the “massive disruption” the COVID-19 pandemic has caused. The funds will replace reductions in federal funds and will maintain, rather than increase, current family planning services, according to the release. Other DOH budget priorities include $5.8 million additional funding for School-Based Health Centers to expand services to include primary care, behavioral health and suicide prevention for the 25,073 students who attend 70 rural and Tribal community schools.
The state will initiate a new program for some new parents of newborns that will provide limited in-home nursing visits within three weeks postpartum. The New Mexico Department of Health and the New Mexico Early Childhood Education and Care Department are partnering with University of New Mexico Hospital to provide the service. The start of the program is limited to individuals who reside in Bernalillo County and who receive prenatal care at the UNM Eubank Women’s Health Clinic and deliver at UNM Hospital. A spokesperson for NMDOH said growth of the project depends on “a wide range of community partners and their support for the work to move forward.”
The program provides up to three nurse visits, with the first visit being in person. The nurse checks in on support for the parent’s health care, support for infant care, support for a safe home and support for the parents, according to a news release.
The state issued an emergency public health order Thursday in response to a surge of pediatric cases and hospitalizations of respiratory viruses. The New Mexico Department of Health issued the public health emergency order Thursday, urging parents to visit hospital emergency rooms with sick children only if the child shows signs of severe illness, such as significant trouble breathing. New Mexico and a few other states are experiencing some of the highest rates of influenza in the U.S., according to the NMDOH. The DOH said in a news release that the order is necessary as hospitals and emergency rooms are operating above their licensed capacity due to the surge in respiratory viruses. The surge is causing an unsustainable strain on health care providers, according to the release.
The New Mexico Department of Health renewed a Public Health Order this week to mandate that all medical providers test pregnant individuals for syphilis multiple times during the pregnancy. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a nationwide increase in cases. New Mexico experienced an increase in cases between 2017, when providers found one case, and 2020, when New Mexico had 42 cases of the disease. Syphilis is easily treatable when detected but can complicate a pregnancy if left untreated. The New Mexico Department of Health will reintroduce a bill into the 2023 Legislature that would amend the Public Health Act to require providers to test for syphilis in pregnant individuals.
On Wednesday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced she will designate$10 million in executive capital outlay funding next year to develop a new clinic in Doña Ana County. Lujan Grisham is directing the New Mexico Department of Finance and Administration to designate the $10 million in the upcoming 2023 legislative session for the new clinic. The New Mexico Department of Health will also develop a plan to leverage state resources to expand access to reproductive healthcare, including abortion, to underserved areas of the state to increase access and decrease wait times at abortion clinics. Lujan Grisham’s announcement was a part of her second executive order on reproductive healthcare since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in late June. The first order established that New Mexico would not cooperate with other state’s efforts to prosecute patients who travel to New Mexico and would protect providers who work in the state.
Democratic U.S. Senator Ben Ray Luján and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra listened to youth behavioral health professionals at a roundtable discussion held on Wednesday at Arrowhead Early College High School in Las Cruces. Luján and Becerra both made general remarks but mostly listened to the local professionals talk about challenges they see facing youth in New Mexico. Dan Green, the state survey epidemiologist supervisor, said that according to 2019 data, 40.4 percent of New Mexico children experience persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness. He said that is higher than national trends. According to the 2019 data, 50.7 percent of girls in New Mexico were likely to experience sadness or hopelessness compared to 30.3 percent of New Mexico boys.
Although the media began focusing on the menstrual product shortage in recent weeks, grassroots organization Indigenous Women Rising have been focused on the shortage since at least the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Rachel Lorenzo, Mescalero Apache/Laguna Pueblo/Xicana and co-founder of IWR, said that when Tribal governments began giving out COVID care packages at the start of the pandemic, IWR assessed the gaps and noticed items missing that affected menstruating individuals and babies. Lorenzo, who uses they/them pronouns, said IWR began supplying, free of charge, menstrual cups, discs and period panties to Indigenous menstruating people in the U.S. and Canada. “IWR started piloting a program to send reusable menstrual products to Indigenous people who are interested and [for whom] it might be out of reach financially and geographically,” they said. Lorenzo said this is not a “catchall” solution and the price problem remains persistent.
New Mexico ranks as one of the states with the highest rates for parental deaths caused by the disease, with 341 children per 100,000 who have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19, according to a study
A group called the Covid Collaborative, made up of experts in health and other fields, produced a study on the mental health challenges U.S. children face after losing a caregiver due to the pandemic. Among other recommendations, the collaborative says that to identify and help the children who have lost a caregiver due to COVID-19 with both behavioral health needs and financial aid, a COVID-Bereaved Children Fund should be implemented. For children who have lost a caregiver due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the collaborative recommends the federal government create a $2 billion to $3 billion bereavement fund. According to the study, 167,000 children nationally lost a parent or other caregiver due to the respiratory disease. New Mexico has experienced 7,116 reported deaths due to COVID-19 over the last two years, according to the New Mexico Department of Health.
Recreational-use cannabis dispensaries in New Mexico are slated to open their doors in about five months, if not sooner. Medical cannabis dispensaries, many of which have been in operation for years, may end up feeling the brunt of an expected run on cannabis products next year, but legacy cannabis cultivators could have an advantage over those who are still in the queue, waiting for their applications to be approved.
While the applicants currently waiting for approval cannot start growing or manufacturing cannabis, medical cannabis cultivation companies that have been licensed for years can start ramping up production in anticipation for next year.
Some of those businesses that are awaiting approval have also, over the years, been waiting for a chance to break into the medical cannabis industry, but were repeatedly told the state was not accepting applications for medical cannabis production, a term New Mexico regulators use for cultivation. The more than two dozen producers who have historically produced medical cannabis are often colloquially referred to as “legacy producers.” But for one producer, the term “legacy” is somewhat of a misnomer. Generation Health, along with 33 other medical cannabis producers, got a fast track through the recreational-use licensing process. The idea was that since the legacy producers were due for license renewals over the summer, they would be re-licensed through the Regulation and Licensing Department, which largely took over cannabis regulatory duties from the state’s Department of Health after the Cannabis Regulation Act went into effect on June 29, 2021.
But Generation Health had only been licensed as a medical cannabis producer for about 24 hours before that jurisdictional switch happened.