SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham provided an exuberant overview Friday of her approach to improving public health during a second term in office, touching on initiatives ranging from children’s nutrition to reproductive health care and the regulation of oilfield pollution.
In an expansive online interview with the dean of Maryland-based Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the governor outlined efforts to reduce the need for acute medical care in a state with some of the nation’s highest rates of poverty, fatal drug overdoses and gun deaths.
“Gun violence is a public health issue. Poverty is a public health issue. Environmental consequences from energy is a public health issue,” said Lujan Grisham, a former state health department secretary. “All of these disenfranchised populations, all of the equity barriers, are all public health issues. And when we address those, our economy is better, our families are stronger, our risks are fewer.”
Lujan Grisham said she believes New Mexico is making progress in addressing hunger and food insecurity that can undermine health and economic prosperity. State lawmakers enacted legislation this year to offer all public school students free lunch and breakfast, while underwriting improvements to school kitchens and setting up grants to local farms and ranches as suppliers.
Lujan Grisham also touted high rates of vaccination for COVID-19 across Native American communities within the state. And she denounced “chilling aspects” of last year’s U.S. Supreme Court’s decision that struck down the constitutional right to abortion.
“Women’s reproductive rights are a significant public health issue, not the least of which is giving families and women the tools they need to do effective family planning,” Lujan Grisham said.
State abortion laws in New Mexico are among the most liberal in the country, but six local governments in eastern New Mexico have recently approved abortion-ban ordinances that reflect pockets of deep-seated opposition to abortion access. The state Supreme Court is weighing whether to strike down the ordinances.
“My political view is these are all efforts, they always have been, to create a national abortion ban, which is the worst policy, the most draconian. … It’s despicable,” Lujan Grisham said.
The interview did not delve into recent allegations of potential abuse and neglect of disabled New Mexico residents under home and community-based programs and contracts overseen by the state.
An independent evaluation last year of state-operated hospitals for veterans, mentally ill people and older adults described inadequate oversight that threatened the ability to provide quality care.
Lujan Grisham figured prominently in discussions about potential presidential Cabinet appointments immediately after President Joe Biden’s election in 2020.