Masks sold by former White House official to Navajo hospitals don’t meet FDA standards

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox. The Indian Health Service acknowledged on Wednesday that 1 million respirator masks it purchased from a former Trump White House official do not meet Food and Drug Administration standards for “use in healthcare settings by health care providers.”

The IHS statement calls into question why the agency purchased expensive medical gear that it now cannot use as intended. The masks were purchased as part of a frantic agency push to supply Navajo hospitals with desperately needed protective equipment in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. ProPublica revealed last week that Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, formed a company in early April and 11 days later won a $3 million contract with IHS to provide specialized respirator masks to the agency for use in Navajo hospitals.

With COVID-19 looming, NM hospitals tossed masks and other protective gear

“The hospital and the country knew it’s coming. And administration and staff are running around throwing out all sorts of supplies,” said a nurse at Albuquerque’s Presbyterian Hospital, one of the state’s largest medical centers. A 20-year employee of the hospital, she requested anonymity because she had not been authorized to speak to the media. 

“It’s sad, it’s horrific,” she said, ticking off a list of what was tossed out: hand sanitizer, masks, intravenous tubing, hospital gowns, bandages. “The whole closet.”

Pregnant women seek alternatives to hospital birth during pandemic

Professionals who assist with birthing center deliveries and at-home births in New Mexico say they are seeing more interest from soon-to-be parents because of the COVID-19 pandemic. One small midwife clinic in Albuquerque, Anidar ABQ Midwifery, is now getting four to five calls a day for at-home birth queries whereas, prior to the pandemic, it normally received about four to five calls every week or two, according to Claire Bettler, a certified midwife and nurse who owns the clinic. Birthing centers, which provide a more home-like setting for low-risk deliveries, are also seeing an increase in interest. Jessica Frechette-Gutfreund, midwife and executive director of Breath of My Heart Birthplace, said the Española-based birth center has seen its weekly call volume triple. “We’re getting somewhere between five and ten new inquiries a week.

New Mexico joined court filing supporting reproductive rights in Texas

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas signed onto an amicus brief earlier this month in support of a lawsuit launched by reproductive groups against the state of Texas. Abortion rights groups sued Texas last month to reverse Gov. Greg Abbott’s restriction on abortion access during the public health emergency. The ban, which was supposed to last until late April, allowed an abortion only if the pregnant person’s life was in danger. Some courts have sided with Texas and some have opined in favor of the abortion rights groups as it has ricocheted through the courts over the last few weeks. Earlier this week, a Texas appeals court allowed medication abortion to resume but not abortions that require a procedure.

UNM researchers devise process for decontaminating PPE

A team of researchers at UNM established a set of protocols for decontaminating personal protective equipment that would be, under normal circumstances, disposable. The team, led by the UNM Center for Global Health director Douglas Perkins, will publish their findings on the preprint server for health sciences, MedRxiv.

Perkins told NM Political Report supply chain issues make securing protective gear a frequent problem at the pediatric ward of a rural government hospital in Kenya that he helps run.

New website connects volunteers who can help healthcare providers during pandemic

After seeing a need to support healthcare providers during the public health emergency, University of New Mexico medical student David Gangwish created a grassroots organization to help providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Gangwish created Corona Care NM, which connects volunteers with healthcare providers. The volunteers help with childcare, pet sitting or household chores such as cleaning, cooking and grocery shopping while providers are working in hospitals during the pandemic. Gangwish, who will soon head for a residency in urology, said he got the idea because medical professionals were talking within the field about the problem of managing child care if the public schools closed. The Public Education Department moved to distance learning for the rest of spring semester last week.

State announces new public health orders to protect PPE supply

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced two new public health orders from the state Department of Health Wednesday to protect the supply of personal protective equipment for health care workers in the state. The orders are necessary to try to slow the spread COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, according to the state. There has been a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers across the nation and many have taken to Twitter to plead for more. On Monday nurses held up signs in front of an Oakland hospital to protest the need for more personal protective equipment. #mc_embed_signup{background:#fff; clear:left; font:14px Helvetica,Arial,sans-serif; }
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Delays in reproductive health care worry advocates

With delays in reproductive health care already taking place, officials with American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico said it could get worse as the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues. Ellie Rushforth, a reproductive rights attorney for ACLU-NM, sent letters to elected officials Monday urging them to ensure reproductive health care will remain accessible during the public health emergency. The letters, to Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, congressional officials and the mayors of Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces, ask that they consider abortion care, all forms of birth control; STI screening, testing, and treatment; vaginal health and treatment; prenatal, delivery, and postnatal care as essential reproductive services that need to remain accessible. The letters outline immediate steps, including that reproductive health care clinics and outpatient abortion providers be considered, “essential business.”

Lujan Grisham announced a stay-at-home order Monday in an attempt to slow down the spread of COVID-19, a type of coronavirus. As of Monday, March 23, the state has 83 test positive cases, with 18 new ones.