New Mexico nursing colleges implement new curriculum

State program hopes to alleviate nursing shortage (eventually)

By Anissa Baca

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—New Mexico is the first state attempting to standardize one nursing curriculum at all state-funded colleges in the state. The hope is that, over time, the program will graduate more nursing students with four-year degrees. This comes amidst a nationwide nursing educator shortage.

The UNM College of Nursing is one of the first colleges to implement the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) curriculum. Soon, the curriculum will be implemented in state-funded colleges across the state.

The UNM College of Nursing is one of the first colleges to implement the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) curriculum. Soon, the curriculum will be implemented in state-funded colleges across the state.

In the short term, however, the nursing shortage actually makes it harder to implement the new curriculum, according to UNM Alumni Relations Officer, Marlena Bermel. She says the nursing shortage limits the number of instructors available, leading to a reduced number of open seats in nursing schools.

“Nursing is complex because there is a great need, but there is a shortage of faculty and clinical spaces and that’s across the country,” Bermel said, “That’s why it’s so competitive.”

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, the biggest contributing factor to the nursing shortage is that colleges cannot expand capacity. Many qualified applicants are turned away because nursing colleges do not have enough room.

New curriculum implemented: NMNEC

A new program the UNM College of Nursing is implementing is the New Mexico Nursing Education Consortium (NMNEC) curriculum. The program promises, within a few years, to increase the number of students nursing schools can accept.

According to Becky Dakin, the NMNEC Program Leader at the UNM College of Nursing, the NMNEC curriculum is intended to encourage students to obtain a BSN, which can put nurses in higher positions in the workforce.

“If you end your nursing education at the associate’s level and begin to practice, it’s incredibly difficult to go back for more schooling later on,” Dakin said. “A BSN opens up many more opportunities.”

BSN nurses positioned for advanced degrees, faculty roles

With more students obtaining a BSN, more may be encouraged to further their education to receive a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or even a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), Dakin said.

In order to teach nursing at the college level, one must have an MSN or a DNP. With more colleges offering students the BSN option, it is hoped that students will go on to earn these higher degrees. In turn, this could increase the number of teachers available for hire. And that, in the long run makes room for more nursing students in colleges.

“So we don’t have enough nursing faculty, but you have to have people with Bachelor’s degrees who kind of get that bug and say ‘I want to know more, I want to learn more, I want to move on’ to be able to get their PhD and become faculty,” Dakin said.

Before NMNEC, there were only two universities, UNM and New Mexico State University (NMSU), where students could earn a BSN. After NMNEC is implemented, students can obtain this degree at 15 community colleges and two universities across the state.

NMNEC is now implemented at UNM and Central New Mexico Community College (CNM) since January 2014. Other colleges across the state will soon begin the NMNEC program in the upcoming summer and fall semesters.

Marlena Bermel says that NMNEC will also benefit hospitals that hire these students. She says employers will be able to expect the new nurses to be consistently trained.

“I think it will benefit employers because they are going to get the same consistent type of nurse,” Bermel said.

New Mexico is the first state to attempt a standardized curriculum like this. Nursing educators around the state have been developing this curriculum since 2010.

“Other states are watching us and hoping that they will be able to do the same thing,” Dakin said.

Colleges implementing the NMNEC program are making changes to their own programs to meet the NMNEC requirements.

Within these changes, educators are changing their programs to become theory based. This means nursing educators are trying to make students think more critically about aspects of nursing so they can apply them when they are in the workforce.

Current nursing student Mariah Galvez says while this theory based method causes students to think deeper, it doesn’t always prepare students for real life situations.

“I understand why the program has to be theory based, we do need to know the basics and understand the reason why before anything,” Galvez said, “On the other hand, it’s going to be so much different when you’re actually out there working.”

However, students at UNM College of Nursing also receive hands on training throughout their nursing education.

As part of their UNM training, nursing students are required to fulfill a set amount of clinical hours, where they go into hospitals or other similar settings and evaluate current patients.

This also gives students the opportunity to meet future employers on their own.

Galvez is currently completing clinical courses the Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Hospital, where she visits with patients and shadows nurses. She says this type of experience is useful to her.

“I feel like there is no better way to practice the field of nursing and see if you like it,” Galvez said.

Galvez hopes to work at this hospital after she graduates in December 2014.

UNM has good retention rates, but nursing shortage persists

According to Bermel, the College of Nursing accepts many native New Mexican applicants into the program. She says it is because of this that they see high retention rates with nursing students, with over 70% of alumni finding work in New Mexico.

The UNM College of Nursing has excellent retention rates, with 70 percent of alumni working in New Mexico. However, the state is still experiencing a nursing shortage.

The UNM College of Nursing has excellent retention rates, with 70 percent of alumni working in New Mexico. However, the state is still experiencing a nursing shortage.

Even with high retention rates, New Mexico is still experiencing a nursing shortage.

According to the New Mexico Center for Nursing Excellence (NMCNE), in 2010, New Mexico was in midst of a nursing shortage due to the lack of faculty and open seats in nursing colleges.

The NMCNE is mentioned in a 2010 New Mexico Health Policy Commission briefing paper, which estimated New Mexico reaching a nursing shortage of 5,000 by the year 2020.

According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing website, a nursing shortage leads nurses to spend less time with patients and decreases the quality of care nurses can give to patients.

Anissa Baca is a journalism student at the University of New Mexico. After graduating in May 2015, she hopes to find a career in broadcast news.

Restaurant industry at center of minimum wage debate

New Mexico a player in local & national issue

by Steve “Mo” Fye

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The restaurant business is one of close margins, where even small increases in costs can make the difference between success and failure. This makes the industry ground zero for the current debate — locally and nationally — over an increase in the minimum wage.

Restaurant owners worry that a hike will cut into their profits while more and more employees and advocacy groups are rallying for a living wage.

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Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham speaks in Albuquerque at the “Give America a Raise” bus tour, sponsored by Americans United for Change, April 22, 2014.

Supporters of an increase in the minimum wage say it is a human rights issue, not just an economic issue. They refute as overblown claims by industry groups and conservatives that hikes would cause runaway inflation and unemployment.

In New Mexico, State Rep. Miguel P. Garcia (D-ABQ-14) sponsored House Joint Resolution 9 in the most recent legislative session. The resolution would have amended the state constitution to establish a statewide minimum wage that would increase annually based on cost of living adjustments. The legislation did not pass the house vote, and a similar measure failed in the senate.

Every Republican in the house voted against the measure, but Garcia said he will continue to work to get a state minimum wage.

“We got 33 for and 29 against. We needed 36. It’s not just an economic decision. It’s a human rights issue,” he said.

“The numbers in the house will be brighter in the next session,” Garcia said. “We hope to add some swing seats in November.”

Garcia said he wants to work on a compromise with opponents of the legislation. He said he is willing to accept an incremental increase and cap the annual indexing at 4 percent.

According to his data, 67 percent of minimum wage workers in New Mexico work for larger corporations.

“It’s places like Wal-Mart, McDonalds and fast food places that will be affected,” he said. “Not mom and pop restaurants.”

Industry groups fear unemployment, inflation

CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association, Carol Wight said her organization opposes any amendment to the state constitution because such a measure would make it difficult to alleviate any unintended effects.

“If the minimum wage goes up, prices go up,” she said. “Tying it to CPI (Consumer Price Index) is irresponsible.”

“How much do you want to pay for a burger?”

– Carol Wight, CEO NMRA

Wight said she is concerned that such an irreversible action could lead to unemployment or inflation.

“How much do you want to pay for a burger?” she said.

The restaurant association has helped to craft language for legislation to increase the minimum wage in local municipalities, she said.

Wight called the Bernalillo County minimum wage increase “easy to comply with,” and a “model ordinance for other communities.”

The county raised the minimum wage to $8 per hour July 1, 2013 and to $8.50 the first day of 2014.

She said the Bernalillo County increase would be easy for restaurant owners to take into consideration when making a budget.

“Those people did their homework,” she said.

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The “Give America a Raise” tour bus pulls into Albuquerque on April 22, 2014. The rally called for a higher national minimum wage of $10.10 per hour.

On the other hand, she said the Albuquerque minimum wage hike was not well thought out and is unfair to restaurant owners and kitchen employees alike.

The city measure, enacted in 2012, increased back of the house (line cooks, prep cooks and dishwashers) wages by only about 15 percent, while front of the house employees (tipped employees such as wait staff) got a 143 percent raise, she said. This would force owners to cut hours or raise prices, she said.

“Servers often make $16 to $22 an hour on top of the hourly pay,” she said.

Wight claims her association would support an incremental increase in hourly minimum wage for restaurant workers if it was done at a reasonable pace.

“Our mantra for right now is ‘let’s be reasonable,’” Wight said.

Other places see positive effects of higher minimum wages

Measures across the country that increased the local minimum wage to above the national rate seem to be working, despite dire predictions from industry groups.

In 1998, Washington State raised the minimum wage and tied it to the cost of living. Since then, the state minimum wage has increased to $9.32, according to the Washington Department of Labor.

An article on Moneynews.com reported that job growth in Washington averaged 0.8 percent per year. Over that same time, the national job growth rate was 0.5 percent. The poverty level in Washington has been lower than the national average for more than seven years..

The average payroll for bars and restaurants in Washington increased by 21 percent, despite fears that the hospitality industry would suffer the loss of jobs and employee hours, according to the same article.

Min-Wage

Jared Ames is the New Mexico director of Working America, an organization affiliated with the AFL-CIO that supports workers not represented by unions. The group has been involved in the effort to increase the minimum wage since 2007.

“We worked on the ballot initiatives in Albuquerque, Santa Fe County, Bernalillo County and now the state,” he said. “We represent 110,000 New Mexicans and are working for a positive change.” The group will continue to work towards a living wage, he said.

Group calls for Congress to ‘Give America a Raise’

Members of another advocacy group, Americans United for Change, focused on addressing income inequality, and have been traveling across the country on the “Give America a Raise” bus tour, raising support for a $10.10 national minimum wage.

Originally scheduled for 11 states, the tour will now stop in 20 or more, according to Jimmy Donofrio, digital director of the organization.

On April 22, the group held a press conference at Focus Ink in Albuquerque.

“When people make a living wage, local economies thrive”

– Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham

Nancy Denker, owner of Focus Ink, said it was fortuitous that the event coincided with Earth Day. She said Earth Day is about sustainability, and the tour supports economic sustainability. Denker pays all of her employees a living wage, she said.

Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM) also spoke at the gathering. She said she is happy that Albuquerque raised the minimum wage, but now it is time for Congress to do the same for America. An increase in the national minimum wage would put $35 billion into the hands of the families that need it most, she said.

“When people make a living wage, local economies thrive,” she said. “This is a moral issue for New Mexico families and families across the U.S. We must make sure our families don’t fall further behind.”

Steve “Mo” Fye is studying journalism at UNM and serves as Managing Editor for the Daily Lobo.

Survey: New Mexico among the least obese states

Despite low national ranking, a quarter of NM residents unhealthily heavy

By Kendra Williams

ALBUQUERQUE N.M.−Almost a fourth of all New Mexicans are obese. As bad as that is, New Mexico ranks among the least obese states.

The obesity findings were released in March by the Gallup Well-Being “State of the States” survey.

The survey found 23.5 percent of New Mexicans have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or higher, a key measure of obesity. The finding puts New Mexico 44th on the list of most obese states. Topping the list are Mississippi, West Virginia and Delaware — in which more than a third of their populations are considered obese.

Nationally, the survey found 27.1 percent of Americans are too fat for their own good.

Notably, those numbers are self-reported and may be low. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) figures the national estimate is closer to 35 percent.

Obesity a growing problem

Obesity has plagued the United States for years in the form of adult and childhood obesity — leading to health and economic problems.

The Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) states that 17% of children are obese.

Obesity is defined as a person’s BMI at 30 or higher. BMI can be calculated using a person’s height and weight, it is not an exact measurement of fat but is a general body fat indicator.

Click here to find your BMI

according to the Centers of Disease and Prevention, 34.9% of adults are obese, with growing numbers seen in New Mexico

According to the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, 34.9% of adults are obese, with growing numbers seen in New Mexico

“There are several levels of obesity, obesity in children and obesity in adults, and that is a very big problem in society,” said Vicente Alvarado, a personal trainer and owner of UCT Direct Fitness Gym.

Higher among Blacks and Hispanics

Nationally, rates of obesity are highest in Non-Hispanic African-Americans at 47.8%.

They are followed by:

  • Hispanics (42.5%)
  • Non-Hispanic Caucasians (32.6%)
  • Non-Hispanic Asians (10.8%)

According to the New Mexico Department of Health, the BMI rates of adult women were lower than men.

The CDC reports that higher income women have lower obesity rates then lower income women.

Women with college degrees also have lower obesity rates compared to less educated women.

Childhood Obesity

The CDC says that it is more likely that an obese child will become an obese adult.

However, the rates of childhood obesity have gone down among young children 2-9. This can be seen most evidently in children from low-income families. For the overall 2-19 age range, rates of obesity have remained constant since 2004.

In 2012, the New Mexico Health Department put together a BMI surveillance report that focused on children in elementary school. The report indicates that 13.2% of kindergarteners and 22.6% of third graders in New Mexico were obese.

Native-American children had the highest childhood obesity rates in New Mexico, 25.5% of students being obese. Followed by:

  • Hispanic children (12.9%)
  • Non-Hispanic Caucasian children (8.8%)

The national average is as follows:

  • Hispanic children (22.4%)
  • Non-Hispanic African-American children (20.2%)

The average healthy weight of a third grader is around 60 pounds; the average weight of New Mexico third graders was roughly 99 pounds.

Click here to read the full New Mexico Health Department BMI Surveillance Report

Health and Economic Concerns

Obesity is the result of consuming more calories than the body uses for physical activity. According to the CDC, obesity is the root cause of many diseases that are preventable. The list includes:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Type-two diabetes
  • Certain types of cancer
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infertility

These health concerns are costly to the economy. An obese person will pay roughly $1,400 more on medical expenses compared to a person at a healthy weight.

In 2008 the annual medical cost of obesity was roughly $147 billion, according to the CDC. These rates come from direct causation, such as diagnoses and treatment services and indirect causation like morbidity and mortality rates.

Healthy Lifestyle

There are many campaigns that are geared towards reducing obesity. These tend to focus on changing a person’s overall lifestyle, not just diet and exercise.

“You have to meet them where they’re at,” says UNM Health Education Manager Malissa Lyons, “but you also have to find ways to tweak your program to encourage that continuous participation.”

Prominent national efforts include First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Lets Move” campaign for a healthy America. The campaign incorporates:

  • Healthy choices
  • Healthy foods in schools
  • Greater access and affordability of foods
  • Increasing physical activity.

The campaign focuses on children but has resources for all ages.

Similarly, the National Football League has “Play 60″ that focuses on children incorporating activity into their daily routine. Play 60 encourages kids to incorporate at least 60 minutes of physical activity into their daily routine.

UNM Healthy Weight Program encourages lifestyle changes to fight obesity. (Graphic: UNM)

UNM Healthy Weight Program encourages lifestyle changes to fight obesity. (Graphic: UNM)

Locally, the University of New Mexico has the Student Health and Counseling Healthy Weight Program geared towards students on campus.

The Healthy Weight Program gives students the opportunity to work with nutritionists, personal trainers, and counselors in a group environment to lose weight and learn healthy eating habits.

Lyons says that the end goal of this program is for students to “gain knowledge of how to sustain these behavior traits all throughout the rest of their lives”.

Click here for more information about obesity and its causes and effects.

Kendra Williams is a junior at the University of New Mexico majoring in journalism. To see more of her work from her wordpress: kswudt93.

WIPP’s Past, Present and Future

Fire and radiation leak prompt safety concerns at New Mexico waste site

By Kira Trujillo

ALBUQUERQUE — February 4, 2014 will go down as an ominous day in the history of Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, also known as WIPP. A fire followed by a radiation leak has kept WIPP shut down for more than three months.

The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, N.M., is the only underground transuranic waste burial site in the nation. The events that occurred on February 4 and afterward have left WIPP closed to further waste shipments with no set date to reopen. With fires, radiation leaks, and a Department of Energy (DOE) issued investigation, WIPP’s future is still uncertain.

A Look Back

From its birth to the fire in early February, 15 years had passed without any hiccup in WIPP’s system. The Waste Isolation Plant was somewhat of a test dummy for finding a geological disposal for waste leftover from nuclear defense projects.

The idea, in theory, is that salt beds that formed from seas millions of years ago can encase the waste and house it safely for millions of years to come.

The waste is stacked in containers inside football field long rooms and the waste, which gives off heat, attracts the moisture left in the salt which then forces the salt to close around it.

Although WIPP is the first U.S. geological waste repository site, it is not the first in the world to be used. Germany had two waste sites similar to WIPP that failed because of natural causes, the most significant being water damage.

The Incidents

It is not known if the fire and the leak have some sort of connection. However, what is known is that the fire could have been prevented, according to a Department of Energy (DOE) investigation. At 10:45 am a fire broke out in one of the underground transuranic waste rooms. A salt haul truck caught fire, which first engulfed the engine compartment in flames as well as the front tires, which is believed to be the cause of the black smoke. All the workers were evacuated, 6 were taken to Carlsbad Medical Center for smoke inhalation and another 7 workers were treated on-site.

Results of these findings prompted the removal of a contract manager. According to the report a facility shift manager instructed that the ventilation system to be switched to filtration, however it made things much worse and sent smoke into evacuation areas of the mine that had good air. The filtration of the smoke made visibility poor for those remaining workers still attempting to locate the waste hoist, which would take them above ground. The report stated that the root cause were “casual factors that, if corrected, would prevent recurrence of the same or similar accidents.”

The management and operations contractor was held responsible for not taking the necessary actions to ensure a safe work environment. Shortly after the fire, a radiation leak was discovered on February 14. The leak had contaminated 21 people and released minor amounts of radiation into the air near WIPP. The radiation was pumped from exhaust fans. Crews have since been able to descend into the mines and have discovered that the leak is more than likely coming from room 7.

Now that the crews believe to have found the origin of the leak the investigation board appointed by the DOE to look into both incidents has blamed the fire and leak on lack of oversight.

This is a map of the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant taken from Google images. The rooms labelled 1-8 are meant to hold transuranic waste leftover from nuclear defense programs in the U.S. The crews determined that room 7 is where the leak originated, but have yet to determined how it happened.

The Watchdogs

The Southwest Research Information Center monitors DOE activities as one part of its mission “to promote the health of people and communities.” It’s been updating the public about WIPP via its website.

“…there are workers that are killing themselves there”

– Don Hancock

Don Hancock directs SRIC’s Nuclear Waste Safety Program. He says his group provides transparency where the DOE falls short — providing critical updates on the current situation at WIPP and links to important government documents that are open to the public but in some cases hard to find.

Hancock says he is neither for or against the DOE, he simply requires them to answer for their mistakes. One concern is how fast WIPP will reopen.

“We’re likely to have a fight. Typically these fights can play out in the court of public opinion, the court of law or the court of congress,” said Hancock.

Hancock’s organization believes that while the DOE is trying to do the right thing, they could be doing more. SRIC is pushing for things like help from an independent agency and also for the 21 workers who were exposed to be able to get another medical opinion outside of the medical care that the DOE is providing. Hancock states one of the DOE’s biggest transparency indiscretions during this incident is saying that there are no health impacts.

“They can’t know that so they shouldn’t be saying that,” said Hancock.

For More Information

U.S. Department of Energy WIPP Site
New Mexico Environment Department WIPP Site 
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency WIPP Site
Southwest Research and Information Center WIPP Site  

The Ultimate goal

Multiple theories have arisen as to what could have potentially caused the leak. One of the theories is that the leak is from a collapse in a ceiling of the salt mine.

When WIPP opened 15 years ago it was commissioned by the DOE to house transuranic waste in underground salt mines. The hope was that the salt mines would eventually collapse and trap all of the waste, however this was not supposed to happen for many years.

Prior to the mishaps, WIPP was projected to close sometime after 2030 but if the salt mines are already collapsing this could potentially affect WIPP’s future.

Another probable theory is a waste drum explosion. Inside waste drums are hazardous gases and material that have the potential to occasionally combust. The plant is required to build 12 foot thick blast proof walls around rooms that have been filled with waste and sealed off.

The amount of radiation that was released into the air was substantially small amount in comparison to even a chest x-ray. Regardless, the citizens of Carlsbad were immediately concerned and since then around 50 appointments for a full body radiation scans have been set up. This is nearly double the number of scans that WIPP averages per year for the public.

Reports says that crews investigating the damage in the mines discovered damage to bags that are used to keep radiation from leaking. The DOE said May 1 it still does not know the cause of the leak or what may have damaged the bags. The magnesium oxide bags weigh up to 4,200 pounds.

Although there have been many parties in WIPP the past 3 months, all seem to want to achieve the same thing, which is to find out why this happened and to make sure it never happens again.

As the leader in geological disposal, WIPP’s reopening is vital for the government to dispose of transuranic waste.

What the Future Holds For WIPP

As the source of the leak is understood, DOE has a long road ahead deciding how to proceed. It would take new congressional budget approval to go down into the mines and clean up all of the radiation that has leaked. Also DOE would have to decide how to go about cleaning the radiation that leaked outside of WIPP.

Don Hancock believes that if there is not a sure fire way of cleaning up the radiation and making sure it does not happen again workers should not be allowed to work whether they want to risk contamination or not.

“I call it the Fukushima effect, because there are workers that are killing themselves there,” said Hancock. “Some of them know it and some of them don’t know it but they are willing to do it for patriotic reasons or money.”

The Southwest Research Information Center states four things need to happen before WIPP can reopen its doors.

  • We need to know what happened
  • An independent entity, not the DOE, needs to come in and say this cannot and will not happen again
  • It needs to be cleaned up, both the underground and the surface
  • Lastly the 21 workers who were exposed need to have qualified medical treatment.

At this point WIPP houses 90,000 containers full of waste — a lot but not nearly the amount it was projected to hold when it opened.

* * *

Kira Trujillo is a journalism student at the University of New Mexico.