Letters to the Editor
Focus, not distractions
New Mexico is currently reviewing and drafting new rules for methane loss from oil and gas production.
Here in the Four Corners we are in the midst of a painful transition for our local communities. The industries we have relied on for decades—coal-fired generation, natural gas and oil production, and the services supporting these industries are slowly either going away or aging out of their most robust times.
It is essential that we be as clear-sighted as possible. We must avoid being distracted, or we end up with the worst consequences of change rather than the best outcomes.
First, what are the distractions? Foremost is continuing to debate “climate change.” The scientists have spoken; more importantly the markets have spoken. Money will flow to cleaner industries every time.
A second distraction is “fossil fuel essentials.” This is a social media driven campaign that implies that we don’t have to change.
A final distraction is the “magic bullet,” a simple solution to our wrenching change. The Enchant Energy project at San Juan Generating Station is an example. Saving jobs is noble, but it must be grounded in economic and technical reality.
So, without distractions, what do we focus on? I offer two things: reclamation and jobs. If we view every change through those lenses, we begin to see a future where we are no longer an “energy wasteland,” but a recovering landscape in the “beautiful” Four Corners.
Methane regulatory changes are one step in that direction. The draft rules as written must be strengthened, loopholes removed, to impact our area through more jobs, reclamation of aged out or priced out resources, and improved air and health. This is an opportunity for innovation through companies, owners, and taxpayers, because we are all in this together. Investment in capturing methane will have economic benefits and will improve our air quality.
This will be an investment wisely made, for new residents will be attracted to our area because it is both forward thinking and acting, and enhances beauty for its land and it’s people now and into the future.
Inside the fight against COVID-19
Only a healthcare worker can understand what each day was like inside a skilled nursing home experiencing the lethal impact of COVID-19 in the earliest months of 2020. As the pandemic first started its sweep across America, so little was known about it that providers like Life Care Center of Farmington, which fought the virus just weeks after the first reported U.S. outbreak on Feb. 28 (in Kirkland, Washington,) faced a much different battle than facilities that dealt with the virus in the summer and into the fall.
No one knew exactly how the virus spread, only that it spread quickly. Testing was limited in those early days, as nursing homes like those in Farmington faced a virus that no government or healthcare system was prepared to fight. Associates were rightfully scared, and staffing was a challenge. Guidance on how to deal with an outbreak changed almost daily, and PPE became an acronym everyone understood.
The loss of life in nursing homes in March, April and May across the country was staggering, including the 44 dear residents our facility lost between April and June. With the passing of time and accumulation of more data, we now know that mortality risk among older Americans as it pertains to COVID-19 is up to 630 times higher than for those ages 18-29. Deaths in nursing homes and assisted living communities have accounted for 40 percent of total U.S. deaths despite being only 8 percent of total cases.
The virus’ high mortality rate among seniors has dealt a punishing blow to the skilled nursing home industry, a body blow felt as deeply in Farmington as anywhere in the country. I only moved here recently, but I didn’t have to be here during the outbreak to know how it affected our facility because I have heard countless individual stories from those who were. And I experienced the heartbreak firsthand during a healing memorial service Life Care Center of Farmington held on Oct. 15.
Today, our facility is providing a high level of service in a safe environment that ensures peace of mind for our residents and their families. Evidence of that came on Oct. 28 when Life Care Center of Farmington was named a 5-Star facility by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the highest rating possible from the government agency that regulates the skilled nursing industry. The rating system is a guide for consumers looking to find a nursing home.
That designation is important because it affirms the quality of work done in our building for the people of Farmington, citizens who stood by the facility and its associates during the tough days of April and May. Research shows that citizens across the country have understandable concerns about utilizing a skilled nursing facility given how quickly and lethally the virus attacked the industry. However, I believe our 5-Star rating and Life Care’s track record here in Farmington will ease those concerns.
There are many lessons our industry and public health officials at the local, state and federal levels have learned and will continue to learn from fighting COVID-19. Monitoring residents for symptoms several times a day and daily screenings of associates at the beginning and end of each shift is now a norm. The ability to quickly turnaround test results is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus. Investment in new air filtration systems and mobile UV lighting technology can also significantly increase safety.
The financial impact on skilled nursing homes across New Mexico and the country due to fighting and continuing to fight the virus cannot be understated, and this is an area where governments and the industry can come together to ensure that reimbursement rates are adequate to provide a higher level of safety to our residents and associates.
The virus has disrupted our industry and how the government pays for the care of the most vulnerable in our society, but it offers a chance going forward to come together in a new partnership focused on care for seniors.
The fight against COVID-19 is far from over. Every day, our team does everything possible to prevent the virus from re-entering our facility. Still, we remain vigilant, because another lesson we have learned is that facilities like ours that are free from COVID-19 today are just one asymptomatic associate or vendor away from a future positive test.
For the health of our community, we are up for the challenge.
Life Care Center of Farmington