© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/27/21
State’s GOP argues for anything but getting vaccinated
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Healthcare professionals pleaded in a recent full-page ad for New Mexicans to get fully vaccinated, get tested and stay home if you feel sick.
The ad didn’t come from political parties. It was signed by every hospital in the state for good reason. With rising patient populations, hospital employees are exhausted and burned out. And they’re coming down with COVID-19.
But it is political, sadly. The governor has been a drumbeat for vaccines and masks.
What about Republicans? I find no evidence they’ve ever recommended vaccinations; some won’t say whether they’ve gotten the shots. Chairman Steve Pearce has stubbornly opposed everything the governor has done, although initially he had a good point.
In spring 2020, Pearce correctly noted that the state health order closing non-essential businesses while allowing grocery stores, drug stores and some big box stores to remain open was hurting small businesses. The order had the unintended consequence of forcing people in rural counties to drive into the cities, where they were more likely to be exposed.
He called for common sense to sustain the state’s economy while fighting the pandemic. In May the governor said businesses could reopen with masked employees and social distancing.
In November 2020, Pearce knocked the governor for not considering the impact of public health orders on small business, public education and mental health. New Mexico’s response had increased suicides and other behavioral health issues, Pearce said. According to the state Department of Health, 520 New Mexico residents took their own lives in 2020, up five from 2019.
Pearce said he’d take the approach of South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, who kept her state open. At the time, New Mexico had 3,555 cases per 100,000 residents, and South Dakota had twice that rate, reported the Associated Press. But New Mexico’s unemployment rate was 8.1% while South Dakota’s was 3.6%.
In May 2021 the state GOP held its three-day convention, which Pearce called Operation Freedom, in Amarillo. New Mexico’s “shutdown” interfered with bringing speakers from other states, he said. We had a mask mandate and 150-person limit on public gatherings. Texas didn’t.
One of the attendees was state Sen. Mark Moores, who drove home to campaign for Congress in District 1. Politico wrote that Moores lost badly because the state’s Republican Party was in thrall to a “right-wing, Trumpist base,” but Moores needed support from the district’s moderates. “And far from the Covid-downplaying impulses of other members of his party, Moores and his wife are partners in Pathology Consultants of New Mexico, a medical diagnostics company that conducted virus testing as part of the state’s pandemic response.”
On July 29, as the Delta variant cases spiked and hospitalizations doubled, a new health order required state employees to be fully vaccinated or tested regularly. State Fair guests had to show proof of vaccination. Masks were again required indoors. And people working in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice facilities and state prisons had to be vaccinated.
“The governor has never had a logical or sensible plan to deal with the pandemic from day one… No science, just politics,” Pearce said.
With this, Pearce ran off the rails. Seriously, if grandma breaks her hip, do you want an unvaccinated nurse to care for her?
The New Mexico Medical Society, the New Mexico Nurse Practitioner Council, the New Mexico Nurses Association, and Presbyterian Healthcare supported the vaccination requirement.
Last summer Pearce’s talking point was that hordes of infected immigrants were pouring across the border, and that’s why our numbers were so high. He demanded that the governor send the National Guard to the border.
No evidence of that, said Dr. David Scrase, acting DOH secretary. Contagion is spreading from other states.
COVID-19 is now killing more people. So why doesn’t Pearce, a Trump admirer, advocate getting the former president’s vaccine?
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/20/21
Food pantries strengthen our safety nets
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Most of us are trying to resist that plate of cookies right now. It’s also a time to remember hungry people in New Mexico and the food banks trying to help them.
Every county has at least one food bank or pantry, and those organizations work hard to reach the very rural areas.
In the recent special session legislators allocated $5 million in federal pandemic funding for food banks. But Allison Smith, lobbyist for the New Mexico Association of Food Banks, has said it’s not enough. Federal aid to food banks in the state has plunged by 65% this year; at the same time, costs of food and shipping are rising.
“Most of our food banks will find themselves out of food by February at the rate that this is going,” she said during a committee hearing.
Source New Mexico, an independent, nonprofit news organization, reported that Smith asked for at least $15 million, quickly, because the time lag between purchase and delivery is three months.
During a discussion on the House floor, Republican Rep. Stefani Lord asked why $26 million deducted from broadband (it wasn’t yet needed) couldn’t be directed to food banks. Good idea, but it wasn’t in the cards.
In the end House Bill 2 passed with $5 million for food banks.
Late in 2020 and early this year food banks received another $10 million through the state Human Services Department for the state’s network of 600 food pantries. At that time Road Runner Food Bank estimated that $5 million would provide about 4.3 million pounds of food, or 3.6 million meals.
The governor is reportedly pushing for more food help in the upcoming regular session.
I don’t mean to guilt trip you as you reach for that piece of fudge, but articles like this require numbers. New Mexico ranks seventh in food insecurity (Texas was fourth), according to projections by Feeding America. We’re third highest for child food insecurity. Before the pandemic, 315,990 New Mexicans, including 114,180 children, were at risk for hunger. In 2020 that number grew to 392,420, or 18.7 percent of New Mexicans (1 in 5), including 147,490 children (1 in 3).
Government helps, but food banks rely heavily on networks of producers to supply food items, produce and other products like diapers. Most of the inventory is “food rescue,” which is unwanted and excess food from producers, grocery stores, restaurants and farms. The food banks then collect, warehouse and transport items to food pantries, soup kitchens, group homes, and shelters.
Food banks have shown a lot of resourcefulness and creativity. Two programs help out farmers and ranchers as well as food banks.
The “Farm to Food Bank” in Bernalillo County was developed by the American Friends Service Committee and local farmers and food banks. During the pandemic, small farmers had fewer customers, and food banks saw ballooning demand. With funding from the county and private donors, the Quaker group began buying food at a fair price from 30 small farmers and delivering statewide to food banks and shelters. They also provided seeds, supplies, and, initially, PPE.
Another is the Wholehearted Food Fund at The Community Pantry (thecommunitypantry.org) in Gallup. Donors buy livestock from New Mexico ranchers through Talus Wind Ranch. The animal is processed locally and donated to The Community Pantry, which provides fresh meat to clients. Donors get a tax deductible receipt.
In giving to food banks, remember that they’re not just for somebody else. Many recipients, newly laid off in the downturn, say they never thought they’d need that kind of help. Donate to them because, well, you just never know.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/13/21
Right and left struggle to reshape congressional districts
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Reporters new to redistricting learn quickly that the process is as much about protecting incumbents as it is about population changes. In the past, Democrats and Republicans scratched each others’ backs.
This year is different.
Ten years ago, when legislators couldn’t agree on district maps, a judge settled the disputes although the results weren’t necessarily fair and square, so there are past wrongs to right. Add to that the growth of New Mexico’s Hispanic population to become a majority, and the close margins in both chambers of Congress that have raised the stakes in home districts.
All this is supposed to be settled by new boundary lines in time for the next elections.
With the first bill out of the chute in the current special session, congressional districts, legislators embraced the most extreme map floated in the Citizen’s Redistricting Committee – the so-called People’s Map of congressional districts, drafted by a coalition of progressive groups.
Voters in the north and south – especially the southeast – spoke against the People’s Map before the session during the redistricting committee’s process. The committee itself didn’t endorse the proposal. I figured that was the end, but no. Democrats revived it, and with a few changes it morphed into Senate Bill 1. Dems bulldozed its path to the governor’s desk.
It upends the old southern District 2, northern District 3, and urban-central District 1. Instead it creates L-shaped districts for Districts 2 and 3 that join north and south, and it slices Albuquerque and the oil patch into pieces. District 3 now stretches from Gallup and Farmington to the northern half of Hobbs; District 2, from the southern half of Zuni Pueblo to Carlsbad; and District 1, from Albuquerque to Carrizozo. Districts 1 and 2 each have a chunk of Albuquerque, and all three have a piece of the oil patch.
Theoretically, neither party has a lock on any district, but Democrats are somewhat more competitive.
Co-sponsors Sen. Joe Cervantes, D-Las Cruces, and Rep. Georgene Louis, D-Albuquerque, said they wanted to create three districts, each with urban and rural populations to bridge the divide between the two. The entire congressional delegation would advocate for urban and rural constituencies, Cervantes said, in a statement. “This is a great opportunity for us to focus on creating unified priorities rather than exacerbating our divisions and differences.”
Southern New Mexico’s historically underrepresented Hispanic voters would get a bigger voice, reflecting their 56% of the District 2 population, up from 47% a decade ago. “These proposed boundaries will enhance the voices of our Hispanic communities at the national level,” Cervantes said.
And the districts would be more competitive. Presumably, we wouldn’t see incumbents like Steve Pearce, Michelle Lujan Grisham, or Ben Ray Lujan winning again and again because the district makeup stifles competition.
Republicans didn’t like the original People’s Map, and they voted against the version in SB 1, saying it was hostile to rural areas, broke up the oil patch, and was partisan gerrymandering.
Cervantes argued the map could produce elected officials who would better reflect New Mexico than Republican Yvette Herrell, of the second district. “My God, colleagues, look at the congressperson who represents me today, and tell me that we don’t have partisanship at an extreme representing southern New Mexico right now.”
Which brings us back to incumbents. Herrell , by playing to the far right, makes herself harder to protect. The Dems’ big legislative majorities allow them to cut this cloth any way they want, just as Republicans are doing in red states. Regardless of whether the governor signs SB 1 and the other redistricting bills, much will be decided in court. Again.
Are voters served? Not really.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 12/6/21
Overflowing state coffers signal economic recovery
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Legislators may start believing in Santa Claus again. With the latest revenue projections, they’ll have more money to work with than they dreamed possible a couple of years ago.
The Legislative Finance Committee’s latest revision pegs an eye-popping $1.6 billion in new revenue (recurring revenue minus commitments) in fiscal 2022 and 2023. That’s a whopping 21.5% increase.
Remember that in the dark, early days of the pandemic, forecasters warned of a deep economic hole that would take years to climb out of. The end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight, but at this point the recovery has legs.
The numbers allow for optimism.
The LFC reports that recurring revenues climbed $224.6 million in fiscal 2021 to more than $8 billion, and they’ve spiked $301.3 million for the next two fiscal years.
As usual, we owe a lot to oil and gas production and prices. And the surge in oil and gas revenues “are pushing severance tax and federal royalty collections even higher above their five-year averages, resulting in larger transfers to the newly created early childhood trust fund,” said the LFC. The sums are mind-boggling: $342.7 million in fiscal 2021 and $824.1 million in FY22.
That’s not the whole story. The hard-hit retail and hospitality sectors are also bouncing back on waves of consumer spending and higher personal income.
“Pent up consumer demand, record savings, and large transfer payments driving personal income are expected to continue driving strong consumption in FY22,” the report said. “Consumer spending in the state reached pre-pandemic levels in early 2021 as businesses reopened, consumer confidence increased with the vaccine rollout, and federal stimulus payments in January and March boosted personal incomes.”
By the second quarter of 2021, consumer spending in New Mexico topped January 2020 levels by more than 10%, continued through the summer and by early November notched 23.6% higher than January 2020.
Personal income taxes grew a robust 12.5% in FY 21 despite job losses. That doesn’t normally happen in a recession, said the LFC. But here’s the down side: Higher income households ($60,000 a year and up) saw employment increase 15.7% from January 2020, while lower-wage workers, who could least afford it, suffered most of the job losses.
From a peak of 847,900 jobs in January 2020, New Mexicans lost 100,500 jobs in the second quarter because of the pandemic, according to UNM’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research, or BBER. That’s an 11.8% slide, By September 2021, the state recovered 45% of lost jobs, but the total is still down 55,000 jobs. BBER doesn’t see jobs returning to pre-pandemic levels until the second quarter of 2024.
Wages and salaries in New Mexico reached pre-pandemic levels in the last quarter of 2020. Total personal income soared during the pandemic but is slowing with the end of stimulus checks and expected to decline in 2022 before returning to an average growth rate.
BBER predicts New Mexico’s economy will grow steadily but lag the nation’s economy. The state’s outlook depends on future economic stimulus (there’s still about $1.1 billion available, along with infrastructure money), economic cycles, and the pandemic.
Legislators will use this data to guide spending. Proposals so far include pay raises for teachers and state employees, safety-net programs, and some tax relief.
The Economic Development Department has asked for money and staffing to carry out its strategic plan. Economic development is Rep. Patty Lundstrom’s day job, and Sen. George Muñoz, a businessman, has had a keen interest in economic development for years. The two Gallup Democrats chair the House Appropriations and Finance Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, respectively, so EDD will probably get a good hearing.
Budgeting with plenty of cash will be new territory for lawmakers.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/29/21
Film industry flourishes in New Mexico; now bring more work to rural areas
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
For every dollar the state invested in the film and television industry during fiscal 2020 and 2021, it got back $8.40, according to a new study. Not long ago, as the industry got a perch in New Mexico, experts struggled to come up with much more than anecdotal evidence of its economic impact.
The study also confirms that high demand for New Mexico film crews by the burgeoning industry has thinned the pool of experienced workers – a problem at the heart of the much publicized recent shooting.
New Mexico’s film incentives are among the most generous: a refundable tax credit of 25 to 35% of certain spending. That fact and years of tight budgets have made the incentives controversial at times, so the new study by the consulting firm Olsberg SPI, released by the state Economic Development Department and the New Mexico Film Office, is reassuring.
According to the study, the direct benefit was $854 million. The 51 productions employed an average of 258 New Mexico cast and crew. Crew members earned $25.64 to $43.27; New Mexico actors were paid a median of $84.54 an hour. Compare this with the state average wage of $17.97. And 92% of productions are here because of the incentive; in other words, mess with the rebate, and they’ll be gone.
In the past detractors have described the rebate as welfare for the rich, but qualifying expenditures are tightly defined. They include spending on New Mexico cast and crew, nonresident crew services in New Mexico, set construction and operations here, photography, sound synchronization, lighting, editing, and facilities and equipment rental.
Film and television production is booming around the world, and the incentive assures that New Mexico gets its share. In fiscal 2021 alone, despite pandemic shutdowns, the industry spent a record $623.8 million here. For the hospitality industry, especially hotels, the productions were a godsend.
However, most productions stay in Albuquerque and Santa Fe even though the state throws in another 5% for rural productions. The total has increased from $4.5 million in FY 20 to $6.6 million in FY 21, but that’s still a meager 1% this year. The report recommends “a coordinated approach to locations, crew development and infrastructure.”
Engaging native communities is “a missed opportunity,” it said.
Under “opportunities and challenges,” the consultants say: “A major challenge looking to the future is that New Mexico suffers from a lack of film and television production workforce capacity, at all levels and roles. Where local crew exist, they are either already committed to a project and/or are not at the level and role required.”
That’s one thing coverage of the “Rust” shooting pointed out. The Los Angeles Times described the thin resumes of people responsible for weapons and props, along with the movie’s low budget, labor troubles and corner cutting.
To expand the labor pool, the state in 2014 began the Film Crew Advancement Program, which pays half the wages for on-the-job training of New Mexicans up to 1,040 hours. The idea is to encourage productions to hire locals instead of bringing a crew from out of state. For employees, it’s an opportunity to add skills or advance in the ranks.
To date 270 production companies have qualified, supporting 3,077 workers.
The report hinted that the application process has some problems, and the program isn’t well known.
Talk to young people (and they’re mostly young) in this industry, and you can’t miss their excitement, their passion. It shouldn’t be hard to recruit more workers and keep this group from leaving the state. Lawmakers get credit for fine-tuning the incentives. The state Film Office has earned industry respect.
They should push hard for changes to get more projects to our small towns.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/22/21
Etiquette helps navigate holiday season during the pandemic
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Emily Post never covered entertaining during a pandemic.
A woman I’ll call Sharon has a large Thanksgiving dinner and prides herself on rounding up “orphans” – people who don’t have immediate family in town. Last year she had to cancel her annual feed, and this year, post-vaccine, everyone was looking forward to gathering again.
Trouble was, two of Sharon’s family members weren’t vaccinated. Some invitees knew that but others didn’t. Two members of this group were treated for cancer in the past year. Another woman had elderly parents at home in delicate health. A few others reflected on sitting for hours unmasked with unvaccinated people in a closed space.
Sharon’s relatives offered to get tested two days before. Some invitees were comfortable with that, and some weren’t.
Everyone knew that New Mexico’s COVID-19 cases have spiked, that hospitals are maxed out. An eye-popping 600 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, and the number is still climbing. Reasons cited by state health officials are unvaccinated people, weariness with COVID-safe practices, and waning immunity from vaccinations, all made worse by the Delta variant, which is twice as contagious as the original virus.
Between Oct. 18 and Nov. 15, unvaccinated people accounted for 79.2% of hospitalizations and 91.6% of deaths.
Two hub hospitals are operating under crisis standards of care, meaning they don’t have enough beds or staff to care for more patients. Wait times are longer, and treatment delays will affect everybody.
Exhausted hospital care givers dread the holiday season.
Emily Post never addressed this subject, but her great-great-granddaughter Lizzie Post, of the Emily Post Institute, has.
“Safety comes before etiquette,” she writes. “This doesn’t mean we toss consideration, respect, and honesty out the window.”
But etiquette is also not a weapon to be used against others. “The point of good etiquette is to guide our own actions, not to judge others for theirs,” Post writes.
She says it’s OK to ask about vaccination status, so someone with health issues can ask if the host and other guests are vaccinated, understanding that the other person may decline to answer.
Regardless of which side of the vaccine or mask divide you’re on, Post advises, “Accepting someone else’s status, and then modifying your behavior around it, is the polite thing to do.”
New rules are evolving. At a business meeting I attended recently, vaccination was a requirement; the group also offered an online option. A history symposium simply required masks.
Columnist Steven Petrow said during a radio interview that wedding invitations now come with an insert that lays down COVID-19 rules about masks and vaccines, “and when you reply as a guest, you're basically asked to agree to these rules.”
“And that is perfectly fine as long as people are asking ahead of time,” he said. “And some people will not be coming as a result of that. And that is the way this cookie crumbles.”
Lizzie Post writes: “Good etiquette can offer the comfort of knowing what is expected of us and what we can expect from others. It gives us a standard to guide us through an otherwise turbulent moment in our social history. And it will make our well-deserved, desperately needed encounters with one another so much better, if only we make the effort.
In the end, Sharon’s dinner got smaller. Guests who cancelled were frank but respectful. Maybe they faulted her for not disclosing the vaccination status of her relatives, but they acknowledged the difficulty of the situation and promised to have lunch with Sharon soon. They held their own dinners with only vaccinated friends and family. No friendships ended, and when it’s safe they will gather again as they always have.
Emily and Lizzie Post would approve.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/15/21
Need workers? State plan calls for overhaul of education and training
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Before state economic developers could talk about their shiny new strategy, two attendees at a recent meeting wondered how they could accomplish anything with no workers. For that matter, how could they use new federal infrastructure dollars with no workers?
The Economic Development Department (EDD) has a plan for that. Workforce development gets a lot of attention in the 384-page blueprint, “Empower and Collaborate: New Mexico’s Economic Path Forward.”
The New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, host of the meeting, says workforce is its second priority after regulation.
EDD Secretary Alicia Keyes talked a lot about “alignment.” By that, she means that many of New Mexico’s higher education institutions aren’t producing graduates with the preparation employers need. They’re not even communicating, and they’re slow to respond.
Business leaders and groups told consultants that many institutions “are increasingly disconnected from the needs of industry,” and they’re producing graduates outside of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields when the need is for STEM graduates.
If this continues, the plan said, New Mexico risks losing young residents “to states with better connected institutions and losing valuable employers to states that provide better trained workers.”
“We want to reimagine education and training,” said Keyes. “We want to work with higher ed to make it more responsive to industry needs.”
For example, 16 of the state’s institutions have film programs, but do students emerge with relevant skills? Nobody knows.
Business isn’t blameless. New Mexico wage rates don’t track with other states. Employers are disengaged, expecting institutions to divine their wants and hustle to make it happen. They need to be active participants and do some of their own training.
The department issued a call to action: New Mexico businesses should pay higher wages, offer PAID internships, and provide more options for working parents, caregivers, and adult learners. Institutions of higher education should work with EDD and industry. And the state Higher Education Department should see that education and training align with industry needs.
Allison Smith, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Restaurant Association, encouraged the department to consider high school programs for hospitality jobs. That led to a discussion of how schools handle career tech education. Some districts do a good job, some don’t, and some refuse to have the conversation.
Kathy Keith, of Los Alamos National Laboratory, raised a raft of issues: “We’re on target to hire 2,000 employees, but we’re having difficulty finding skilled trades.” She added that the lab needs a diverse workforce and works hard to hire locally, but in the six surrounding counties, just 12% of graduates are competent in math.
We still have the simple problem of numbers. My colleague Harold Morgan has for years documented the steady exodus of working-age people from the state. How do we bring them back? How do we keep them here?
“We want to be a good place for working age population to live,” said EDD Deputy Jon Clark.
To that end, the plan proposes strengthening communities, especially rural communities. That’s a whole different discussion. I’ll be unpacking different aspects of the plan in future columns.
Obviously, this plan won’t pull workers out of a hat, and it requires an unprecedented collaboration between public and private sectors, along with money from the Legislature. The department itself is understaffed and underfunded to push forward its ambitious plan and will ask lawmakers for help.
Bill Lee, CEO of the Gallup McKinley County Chamber of Commerce, talks to employers all the time, and their top concern is workforce. He said the plan provides “real hope and a sense of forward momentum” at a time when employers are “almost throwing darts in the dark.”
Keyes and her small department deserve credit for commissioning a serious study and shaping a plan – the first in memory – to guide spending rather than just throwing money at the problem.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/8/21
Regulatory reformers will find red tape a formidable opponent
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Hotels would have been required to place condoms in rooms, along with an informational pamphlet, to prevent the spread of AIDS. This was the goal of a bill in the 1989 legislative session. Sens. Billy McKibben and Les Houston, both Republicans, argued that it would save lives.
“It’s here with us,” Houston said of the disease. “It’s not going to go away.”
The New Mexico Hotel and Motel Association objected, saying parents would not want to explain to kids the two objects (the bill required two) sitting next to the soap.
There’s no shortage of bonehead legislation, laws and regulations. Bills start with the best intentions, but the process ends with regulations that can be benign, annoying or costly. The worst are a barrier to economic growth.
Late last month the governor announced an order to streamline the state’s regulatory system as part of the 20-year Strategic Plan. Her order directs the state Regulation and Licensing Department to work with the Economic Development Department to review rules and regulations and “identify opportunities for updates, simplifications or repeals that will streamline the regulatory system -- and ultimately deliver the most business-friendly environment while maintaining the protection of public health and safety,” said a news release.
For decades business groups have been pleading for regulatory reform. Governors and lawmakers have tried to respond.
In 2007 the House asked for a task force on regulatory reform to make recommendations on administrative rulemaking, licensing, enforcement and adjudication processes. Interim committee meetings that year supported regulatory reform. At one meeting, a lawmaker from the northwest said pit rules were killing the oil and gas industry, and the heavily regulated dairy industry said it needed a fair, consistent and predictable regulatory process.
In 2008, a Senate bill proposed creating a regulatory process task force to review model legislation, look at rule making and accountability systems in other states and decide if legislative action might improve the state’s process.
For years the Association of Commerce and Industry, now called the New Mexico Chamber of Commerce, had nursed regulatory reform bills. Despite ACI’s support, the measure died in committee.
“Opponents seem to fear that a look under our regulatory veil might be the first step in leaving polluters wild in the streets,” I wrote that year. “We need to have this discussion.”
One major obstacle to regulatory reform: To one group reform spells relief; to another, it’s a headache.
In 2010 Susana Martinez campaigned on reducing regulation and red tape. It faltered because it was overly broad and vague. And legislators had their own plans. The interim Economic and Rural Development Committee in 2011 introduced bills to streamline the Regulation and Licensing Department, improve the rule-making process and tackle regulatory overreach.
A bipartisan bill would have established a uniform process for creating and applying rules, posting public notices, and recording and tracking results of meetings.
A second bill would have required agencies to fix response times for permit or license applications. Agencies then might take more than 18 months to respond. The sponsor argued, “We need to be business friendly.”
A joint resolution sought a constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to nullify rules or regulations adopted by the administration.
All three died. The obstacle was the dangerous divide between executive and legislative powers.
The latest stab at regulatory reform is driven by the executive branch, with input from local governments, private industry and citizens. It will aim to “remove unnecessary burdens to professional licensing,” provide “a simpler path to entrepreneurship,” and “reduce timelines for approving construction-related permits.”
Business groups, as always, will pick up the rope and pull. For their part, reformers in state government can’t underestimate challenges. And there is no end date.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 11/1/21
Crisis standards of care: A prescription for rationing healthcare as numbers worsen
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
On the same day the state Department of Health gave hospitals permission to use crisis standards of care, my husband was having surgery. So the question of what exactly that meant got a lot more pressing. If his surgery went south, where in the pecking order would he be?
There are no clear answers.
On Oct. 18 the order allowed the state’s overrun and understaffed facilities to choose crisis standards of care, which makes the process of deciding patient priority for treatment “standardized and equitable.”
That’s uncomfortably vague.
New Mexico has a 96-page Crisis Standards of Care Plan, published in 2018 after work by multiple agencies, to prepare for major disasters and, yes, pandemics. It directs “a shift from individual care to care for the whole community.”
“A pandemic or catastrophic emergency may strain medical and aligned resources and thereby require a shift” from care focused on the individual patient to care “focused on doing the most good for the greatest number,” the plan says. “Rather than doing everything possible to try to save every life, in an emergency, it may be necessary to allocate scarce resources to save as many lives as possible.”
This runs counter to the training and personal ethic of healthcare professionals to do their utmost for each and every patient, as the plan anticipates that “ethical and emotional issues will arise.”
The plan spells out how treatment, beds, and supplies should be rationed to save the most lives but “does not imply substandard care would be provided.” In a worst case scenario, who gets ventilators, for example, is determined by a scoring system that considers organ function and other conditions, such as cancer. The standards also provide legal cover for facilities and personnel.
We’re not there yet, although during the DOH briefing, acting Secretary David Scrase referred to an analytical tool that evaluates a patient’s chance of survival rather than age. Jennifer Vosburgh, associate chief nursing officer at UNM Hospital added, “We evaluate patients regardless of their situation. Patients are patients.”
A DOH spokesman provided this explanation: “It would depend on many factors, including whether all ICU beds are filled, the seriousness of each patient's condition, and the medical facility's capacity to treat each patient.”
So there is an objective yardstick, and there is still individual decision making. Hospitals have the option to invoke the standards, and it can be for a limited period of time while demand is overwhelming.
My husband’s doctor, working in a hub hospital, understood crisis standards of care as a function of staffing. His hospital was fully staffed and had not activated the standards, so in his view my husband’s position in line hadn’t changed.
And yet the hub hospitals’ intensive care units have been operating well over 100% capacity.
A rural emergency doctor told me he had to keep a patient in the ER for 30 hours because there were no ICU beds available at hub hospitals. He’s trained to provide care for six hours; by then a patient would normally be transferred. He couldn’t get an ICU consult because all the ICU doctors were slammed.
Wait times have gotten longer and longer, and sometimes the patient dies without ever seeing the inside of an ICU.
“This is very distressing for our staff and all the health care workers that can’t provide the care were trained to do,” Vosburgh said.
Crisis standards of care aren’t widely activated yet, but within days of the announcement New Mexico shot past 5,000 deaths and the high plateau of deaths hasn’t changed trajectory.
Scrase, a physician, said nearly 1,000 had died who “didn’t need to die had they been vaccinated, and that really is a tragedy.”
The prospect of “standardized and equitable” healthcare looms for us and our loved ones.
© 2021 NEW MEXICO NEWS SERVICES 10/25/21
Real cause of employee exodus may be bad management
By Sherry Robinson
All She Wrote
Several weeks ago I wrote about the state Cultural Affairs Department’s mismanagement of historic sites, including the crown jewels Historic Lincoln and Fort Stanton. The department is now trying to remedy years of neglect at sites and mistreatment of employees. This is not just one department’s issue.
The federal government knows that employees will stay for years, and it invests in training at all levels. The state doesn’t, and the public is ill served. In management, the situation is especially acute, as people become supervisors or managers with no preparation and jump off the deep end with no life vest. Or worse, they’re so convinced of their own superiority they don’t know they need coaching.
Bad management infects public and private sectors.
I decided to compose a top ten list of rules based on years as a business writer and my own work experience:
1.Hire the person best qualified for the job – not your friends and relatives.
2.Be fair. There should be no boss’s pets.
3.Communicate, communicate, communicate. Listen more, talk less. Keep an open door, but get out of your office. Return calls and emails. If you’ve made a mistake, be big enough to admit it.
4.Your moral fiber counts. Honesty and integrity count. Keep your promises.
5.Deal with problems quickly. Ignoring them won’t make them go away.
6.Don’t assume you have all the answers. Respect your employees and credit them with intelligence. Give them leeway to make decisions. Don’t micromanage.
7.Care about your employees. Be friendly, but don’t try to be a buddy to everyone. 8.Recognize good work. Recognize contributions above and beyond. If money is tight, get creative.
9.Don’t allow personality conflicts and internal squabbles to fester. Separate the warring parties, hire a mediator, or eliminate the source of disharmony.
10.If you’ve just come here from outside the state, don’t just assume New Mexicans are all dummies. Watch, listen and learn for a while before making changes.
In the case of the state Historic Sites Division, the top people broke a lot of these rules, especially the first and the last.
Director Patrick Moore hired a business partner and two of his students, all from Florida. The two at Lincoln and Fort Stanton were inept managers, and their advanced degrees didn’t prepare them to deal with hazardous chemicals, site maintenance or the employees who care for such necessities. Neither Moore nor his former business partner seemed aware of state rules governing conflicts of interest.
Moore knew the sites were understaffed but added to the management pyramid when he created TWO deputy director positions and filled one with the former business partner who now had a new business interest in Lincoln. Problems piled up and employees and volunteers quit. Concerned citizens called and emailed. Moore and the department didn’t respond. Neither did elected officials. The outcry grew until the department was embarrassed into acting, but even now the action plan addresses everybody but management.
In fairness, the pandemic and site closures made their jobs more difficult, and Moore inherited facilities worn down by years of neglect.
If there’s a lesson in this story, it’s that concerned citizens can make a difference if they’re vigilant, vocal and persistent. At the heart of this protest is Lincoln resident and historian Lynda Sanchez, who’s fought for Fort Stanton for more than 20 years. She’s been recognized for her contributions and reviled as a troublemaker. Either way, the old fort is better off for her efforts. We need more troublemakers.
La Ventana in El Malpais (Sherry Robinson photo)