June 23 First News: Audit of V-A Shows Officials Knew Of Issues For Years (Listen)

Jun 23, 2014

An audit by the Veterans Affairs health care network in the Southwest shows officials knew years ago that employees were manipulating data on doctor appointments. The Arizona Republic reports that officials failed to stop the practice despite a national directive. The 2012 audit found hospitals and clinics in New Mexico, Arizona and west Texas chronically violated department policy and created inaccurate data on patient wait times using a variety of methods. In New Mexico, schedulers would sometimes cancel appointments and remake them to reflect acceptable wait times. The Albuquerque Journal reports details of the rigged scheduling were among the findings of an investigation trigged in 2013 by a whistleblower complaint. Allegations that dozens of veterans died while awaiting appointments at the Phoenix VA medical center first triggered the national uproar over the VA.

New Mexico State Police investigators say alcohol appears to be a contributing factor in a crash that killed two people in Rio Arriba County last week. Sergeant Damyan Brown says the crashed happened Thursday evening along U.S. Highway 84. A Ford pickup traveling north crossed into the southbound lane and hit a car head on. The two people in the car were pronounced dead at the scene. They have since been identified as 23-year-old Leo Gurule of Espanola and 45-year-old Carlos Archuleta of Santa Cruz. The driver of the pickup was taken into custody, but police have yet to identify the driver or provide any details about what charges the driver might face. Brown says the crash remains under investigation.

Some artists and environmentalists are concerned that oil and gas drilling is encroaching on the black, white and gray hills in northwestern New Mexico made famous in Georgia O'Keeffe's drawings and paintings. While the "Black Place" itself remains untouched, The New Mexican reports that dozens of drilling tanks are 500 yards from the site and it's surrounded by rigs and a maze of dusty dirt roads traveled by oilfield workers. The head of the O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe, Robert Kret, says he had a preliminary discussion with state preservation officials and another meeting is planned. But state officials say it's too early to say what could be done to protect the Black Place. The area is on federal land just east of the Navajo community of Nageezi.

Advocates say some of the immigrant families caught crossing the border together illegally will be coming to New Mexico and housed by the Catholic Church. Thomas Baca, executive director of Catholic Charities in Las Cruces, told The Associated Press on Friday that close to 300 people will be housed at a parish in Anthony after being released from federal immigration authorities. He says the Diocese of Las Cruces is working on raising funds to house the immigrants and racing to get the facility ready. Baca says the Diocese of El Paso is housing around 300 immigrants. The administration has released an unspecified number of such families into the U.S. in the past several months with instructions to report later to Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices.

New Mexico's unemployment rate dropped to six-and-a-half percent in May, down from six-point-eight percent the previous month and six-point-nine percent a year ago. The state Workforce Solutions Department said Friday that the state's economy lost 600 jobs over the year. Over the year, the sector with the largest job gain was financial activities and retail trade sectors. They each have added 22-hundred jobs since May 2013. Education and health services added 15-hundred jobs, mining gained 13-hundred jobs, and the leisure and hospitality industries added one-thousand jobs. Government employment registered a net loss of 25-hundred jobs since May of last year. The professional and business services industry lost 21-hundred jobs. Manufacturing shed 17-hundred jobs in its 18th month of decline while construction employment fell by 15-hundred jobs.

Santa Fe Weather: Mostly sunny, with a high near 84. Tonight: Partly cloudy, with a low around 56. Tomorrow: Mostly sunny, with a high near 85. There’s a 20-percent chance for isolated showers and thunderstorms today through tomorrow.