A cage match for a cause

Joey Peters

Joey Peters

From MinnPost.

Halfway through a weekend fundraising evening event at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe member Austin Arrow took the stage with several staffers from Women of Nations, a St. Paul-based shelter that houses victims of domestic violence, for a triumphant photo-op.

It was jubilant moment celebrating the success of the night — a sale of nearly 600 tickets with all proceeds going toward the nonprofit. Then Aaron Corbin came in to ruin it all.

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A scrap over DWI coverage spurs accountability questions

Highway in San Juan County, New Mexico.  Image via Granger Meador/Flickr.

Highway in San Juan County, New Mexico. Image via Granger Meador/Flickr.

From Columbia Journalism Review.

In New Mexico, where cautionary billboards dot the landscape and headlines about drunk driving-related traffic deaths are ubiquitous, it’s always newsworthy when someone powerful gets popped for driving while intoxicated. It’s arguably more newsworthy when they get out of it.

But depending on their news sources, New Mexico residents may have come away from a recent DWI story with significantly different ideas of its importance—and wildly different understandings of the reporting that yielded it.

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At an Edina clinic, a controversial treatment for depression: ketamine

Photo Courtesy Mike Dvorak of MinnPost

Photo Courtesy Mike Dvorak of MinnPost

From MinnPost

For more than two decades, Laura Clark has suffered from posttraumatic stress disorder. So three months ago, Dr. Gregory Simelgor hooked her to an IV in his Edina clinic for an unusual type of mental health treatment.

Over the course of two weeks, Simelgor injected Clark six times with ketamine, a drug used to anesthetize patients during surgery or other painful procedures. During infusions, Clark felt like she was floating. Sometimes, her lips and hands felt bigger than they actually were. Other times, she felt like she didn’t have hands at all. “It’s actually kind of pleasant,” she said.

For Simelgor, these sensations are a good sign: it means the ketamine is working.

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Inside the Twin Cities’ dwindling Scientology movement

Photo Courtesy City Pages

Photo Courtesy City Pages

From City Pages

On the corner of Wabasha and 10th streets, a large ‘S’ accompanied by two sideways triangles leers at the downtown traffic. Underneath, bold letters spell out “Church of Scientology” on one of the prime locations in St. Paul.

When it housed the Science Museum of Minnesota, this 82,000-square-foot building served a public purpose. Today, as the biggest Scientology building in the Midwest, it’s largely empty.

On a Sunday morning, I count four people inside, apart from two friends with whom I’ve come for a tour. The unfilled rooms are notable, considering Scientology holds Sunday services.

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Highly trained and educated, some foreign-born doctors still can’t practice medicine in the US

Photo Courtesy UCLA

Photo Courtesy UCLA

From PRI's The World

Consuelo López de Padilla fits the profile of a doctor with top-of-the-line medical training.

She spent 15 years in her native Venezuela studying medicine and working as a doctor. In 2001, she left the Andean hills of her home country for the frigid flatlands of southern Minnesota to spend three years researching at one of the world’s most prestigious health centers, the Mayo Clinic.

But after starting a family in the US, she never returned to Venezuela. She’s also never been able to work as a doctor.

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How foreign-trained doctors are filling the health care gap in Greater Minnesota


To Milagros Zegarra, the forests and lakes of Bemidji are a far cry from the bustling streets and beaches of Lima, Peru.

Zegarra spent most of her years growing up in Peru’s capital city, attending medical school and beginning her career as a doctor there. But in 2002, Zegarra came to the United States, partly to escape the instability that was then affecting her home country, and partly to take advantage of an opportunity to work in a state-of-the-art medical facility, which she did as an internal medicine resident at the sprawling Texas Medical Center in Houston.

Today, she’s a nephrologist — a kidney specialist — at Sanford Bemidji Medical Center, working in a town of 14,000 people best known for its university and its statues of Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

Zegarra’s background may seem unique for a doctor in Greater Minnesota, but if the state’s health-care trends continue as they have been, it won’t be.

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Albuquerque school district facing federal scrutiny for handling of disabled student


The federal government is investigating alleged discrimination by Albuquerque Public Schools against a student with a disability.

The claim involves Michael Bruening, a 16-year-old autistic student who last saw an APS classroom in May 2015, according to his mother, Laura Gutierrez. The school district placed Bruening on homebound instruction, or education at home, but according to Gutierrez hasn’t done enough to support his educational development.

Gutierrez, who said she does the bulk of instructing her son now, estimates he’s only attained education levels around the 6th or 7th grade.

“I can’t teach him without him blowing up,” she said in a recent interview.

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A Moral Choice: As pressure mounts, faith sustains veteran ABQ doctor who performs third-trimester abortions

If Curtis Boyd lives by one professional mantra, it’s this: Unless a woman has full autonomy over her body, she lacks full citizenship and lives instead as a second-class citizen.

The controversial and celebrated abortion provider explains this thoughtfully on a hot, dry Fourth of July day in his Albuquerque office. A wiry man of 80 years, Boyd wears a gray surgical gown and says he’s working the holiday because the type of procedure that his clinic, Southwestern Women’s Options, is known for requires multiple days.

The clinic sits near I-25 on Lomas Boulevard, a crowded east-west thoroughfare on the edge of downtown Albuquerque. Across the street looms a pink billboard paid for by the group Prolife Across America. “Save the babies, heartbeat 18 days,” pleads the text. An infant’s chubby face peers out at passersby, a reminder of the ire against Southwestern Women’s Options even on days when no protesters show up.

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Boyd: Risks grew worse after Roe v. Wade

Though Dr. Curtis Boyd spent five years before Roe v. Wade risking time in jail and his medical license by performing abortions, he says things got worse after the landmark ruling legalizing abortion across the country.

At first, he says the anti-abortion movement wasn’t given much credence. But he points to the election of Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party’s embrace of a stance against abortion access as a turning point.

During the 1980s, Boyd says protesters often swarmed his car to block his exit from the clinic parking lot. His staff, eyewitnesses to the protests, would call the cops to intervene. Boyd usually stayed in his car until police cleared the protesters out. One time, lacking patience, he decided to force his way into his clinic.

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Audit finds city may have violated law with water deal

A special audit of the city of Jal found government officials in the southeastern New Mexico oil patch town gave “improper billings and adjustments” of more than $660,000 between 2008 and 2016.

Those billings may violate New Mexico’s anti-donation clause, State Auditor Tim Keller concluded, which bars local and state governments from making donations to private individuals.

The audit comes after NM Political Report and the Jal Record reported last September that city officials gave a local rancher a $1.2 million discount on commercial water use between August 2012 and April of 2014. At the same time, the city raised water rates on other customers. Jal officials also continued selling industrial water to the the Beckham Ranch, Inc., for six months after a ban on industrial water sales went into effect.

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State makes ‘shockingly little progress’ in mending SNAP scandal

More than one year after three top state officials refused to answer questions in federal court about fraud allegations and nine months after a federal judge held their cabinet secretary in contempt of court, the state Human Services Department (HSD) appears to still be seriously mishandling how it processes federal benefits to New Mexico’s poor.

This includes an apparent department directive instructing caseworkers to limit interviews with those enrolled in and seeking federal benefits and lie to their superiors about it.

Now, the advocacy organization representing plaintiffs in a decades-long lawsuit against HSD is asking a judge to impose monetary sanctions on HSD and its secretary, Brent Earnest. The call for sanctions comes over the department’s alleged failures to meet federal guidelines on processing Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

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Special master: HSD staff shakeup needed to address SNAP problems

LAS CRUCES—A year-old scandal involving alleged systemic fraud with the state’s management of federal food aid benefits was the elephant in the federal courtroom Thursday.

Both Kenneth Gonzales, a federal district judge, and Lawrence Parker, a court-appointed “special master” who is tasked with guiding the New Mexico Human Service Department (HSD) in its federal compliance with Medicaid and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, alluded to the scandal at the hearing.

“What nobody wants to see, and you especially, is a culture that allows this to happen,” Gonzales told HSD Secretary Brent Earnest.

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Two Iraqi refugees in NM helped the US military. Now they’re facing deportation

At least two Iraqi refugees in New Mexico could be deported following a recent repatriation agreement between the U.S. and Iraq.

But the American Civil Liberties Union is attempting to prevent that from happening. The New Mexico chapter recently weighed in after the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Michigan detained nearly 100 Iraqi nationals.

A federal judge in Michigan earlier this month temporarily blocked deportation of Iraqi nationals, whom the ACLU has argued would face danger if deported back to their country of origin. Monday night that same judge extended the stay against deportation to all Iraqi-born people affected across the country, including at least two in New Mexico. Monday night’s stay is scheduled to last 14 days.

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Beyond the compromise: How legislators and the governor balanced the budget with a dirty band-aid

For most of this year, the budget was the hottest topic for legislators and the governor. Both branches battled, then came to an agreement no one seems enthusiastic about.

The deal suggested by Gov. Susana Martinez essentially amounted to using bonding money normally reserved for state infrastructure to balance the budget. State lawmakers request the bonding money for state infrastructure projects.

Issuing bonds works like a home mortgage: the state borrows money backed by oil and gas revenue and pays it back with interest over the years.

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Walgreens faces sex discrimination complaint after refusal to fill prescription

Two advocacy organizations filed discrimination complaints against an Albuquerque Walgreens pharmacy for allegedly refusing to fill a birth control prescription.

The complaint, sent to the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, was written by the American Civil Liberties Union of New Mexico and the Southwest Women’s Law Center. The organizations allege a pharmacy employee at a store on Coors Boulevard refused to fill a misoprostol prescription to a teenage woman who was at the store with her mother last August, citing personal reasons.

This refusal, according to two complaints, violates the New Mexico Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sex.

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ICE transfers transgender detainees to New Mexico

A group of transgender women detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement were recently transferred to New Mexico from a detention center in California.

In a detention center in Milan, the women are housed in a pod together.

ICE transferred the dozen or so women in early May to Cibola County Detention Center in Milan from a similar facility in Santa Ana, California, where ICE made its first dedicated transgender module. Since then, advocacy organizations for immigrants and transgender rights in New Mexico have taken notice.

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Medicaid renewal delays balloon as HSD gets control of SNAP backlog

Tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients in New Mexico are not receiving their health benefits on time, according to numbers from state government.

As of February of this year, more than 48,000 Medicaid cases up for renewal are not being processed by the state Human Services Department (HSD) on time, according to a federal court filing in April citing HSD’s own numbers. And that number of Medicaid renewal delays has only grown to more than 59,000 as of May 10, according to Maria Griego, a staff attorney with the New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty.

“They’re pretty bad,” Griego said of the delays.

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State blames five-month bungling of Medicaid case on ‘computer glitch’

Last month, 82-year-old Viola Weir received a letter from the state that rejected her request for Medicaid benefits to pay for nursing home care.

The letter from the New Mexico Human Services Department (HSD) said she had not provided the state agency with “the mandatory documents we need to decide if you can get benefits.” As a result, the department denied Viola Weir her Medicaid benefits.

The very same letter also said her income levels and assets met the qualifications to receive such care.

That’s according to documentation that Tom Kovach, Weir’s son-in-law, sent to NM Political Report from HSD, the state department which processes federal benefits.

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ICE enforcement surge makes some ‘live in constant fear’

Every morning before he leaves to go to work, Yalil scans the street outside his home to see if any unusual cars are parked outside.

“If it’s something, we do have to plan not to go to work and stay the whole day home,” he said.

Yalil’s little brothers, both still in school and born in the United States, are too young to understand why their family needs to be so cautious. But they’re instructed every day to never answer the door, “not even to the missionaries, the people who are talking about God,” Yalil said.

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ACA repeal would have big impact on recovering addicts

Lawrence Martinez says driving triggers him back to the dark days of dependency.

“Monday was my first day driving the car,” the Albuquerque father of four said last week, talking about the car he and his wife recently bought, as he sat in a conference room at Albuquerque’s Turning Point Recovery Center. “That was an issue on its own, but it’s working out now. Leaving the house, I get anxiety. Once I get on the road, it’s perfect.”

Martinez has been recovering from a methamphetamine addiction since last July. It was a problem he struggled on and off with for years. Martinez said that in October 2015, he was high on meth when another man violently attacked him and left him injured after a road rage incident. For the next nine months, Martinez said he remained holed up in his home, most of the time high on meth, paranoid that people were after him.

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