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Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has promised to investigate allegations of racial profiling of Native American mothers at Lovelace Women’s Hospital in Albuquerque.
The allegations were first reported by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica. According to the article, hospital clinicians said they were instructed to conduct additional COVID-19 screenings for pregnant women who appeared to be Native American.
On June 13, Lujan Grisham referenced the article on social media.
“These are significant, awful allegations and, if true, a disgusting and unforgivable violation of patient rights,” the governor wrote. “The state of New Mexico is investigating whether this constitutes a CMS violation and will unequivocally hold this hospital accountable.”
CMS is the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
In a statement provided to the Journal Friday, Lovelace said the hospital’s screening practices of pregnant women had been “misconstrued and inaccurately reported” in the article.
“We adopted clinical guidelines to protect our patients, staff and community from COVID-19 during this pandemic and complied with the New Mexico Department of Health (NMDOH) and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) guidance,” hospital spokesperson Whitney Marquez wrote in the statement.
“All patients, visitors and staff entering our facility are screened for COVID-19 based on exposure, symptoms of COVID-19, and communities that are determined by the Governor’s Office and the NMDOH to be at increased risk, such as nursing home patients, dialysis patients and hard-hit geographical areas.” Marquez added that the hospital’s staff is committed to the healing and wellbeing of every patient regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, religion, or physical condition.”
In the article, Clinicians said they were told to designate pregnant women as a person under investigation for COVID-19 and test them for the virus if the patient’s ZIP code was on a hospital-maintained list of pueblos and tribes. This was done even if the patient had no symptoms and did not live in a COVID-19 “hotspot.”
The practice may have resulted in several Native American mothers being separated from their newborn babies while awaiting test results, New Mexico In Depth reported. Clinicians told the news organization non-Native American patients did not undergo additional screening.
Malia Luarkie, birth and breastfeeding advocate at Indigenous Women Rising, said the hospital’s practice could harm child development by depriving the baby and mother of skin-to-skin contact.
“Family separation causes severe and long-lasting harm – being Indigenous and living on or near a reservation is not probable cause to persecute a birth parent and their child,” Luarkie said in a statement from the organization.
Tewa Women United issued a statement encouraging leaders “to call out such practices that destroy trust, erode our human rights and violate our Tribal and body sovereignty.”
Angel Charley, director of the Coalition to Stop Violence Against Native Women, said in a statement that the allegations raise concerns about Native women not having fully-informed consent about their health care during birth.
State Auditor Brian Colón said he supports the governor’s call for an investigation into the “very troubling and harmful allegations of patient discrimination against pregnant Native American women at one of Albuquerque’s most prominent women’s hospitals.”
“I am truly appalled by these offensive and egregious allegations,” Colón said in a statement issued to the Journal. … I will continue to monitor the situation and evaluate the Office of the State Auditor’s level of involvement, which may be driven by the multi-agency response to the initial demand for answers, among other considerations.”