Close Close Comment Creative Commons Donate Email Add Email Facebook Instagram Facebook Messenger Mobile Nav Menu Podcast Print RSS Search Secure Twitter WhatsApp YouTube

State Investigating Hospital With Coronavirus Policy That Profiled Pregnant Native American Mothers and Separated Them From Newborns

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham cited “significant, awful allegations” in a ProPublica and New Mexico In Depth story on a hospital where clinicians said pregnant Native women were singled out for COVID-19 testing and separated from newborns after delivery.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico at a news conference on the coronavirus on May 27. (Eddie Moore/The Albuquerque Journal via AP)

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article was produced in partnership with New Mexico In Depth, which is a member of the ProPublica Local Reporting Network.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced on Twitter Saturday that state officials would investigate allegations of racial profiling of pregnant Native American women at a top hospital in Albuquerque.

Lujan Grisham was reacting to a story published Saturday by New Mexico In Depth and ProPublica revealing that Lovelace Women’s Hospital had a secret policy for screening Native American women for coronavirus based on their appearance and home ZIP code, according to several clinicians who work there.

Described as racial profiling by medical ethicists, the policy resulted in some Native American women being separated from their newborns at birth as hospital staff waited for test results, according to the clinicians.

“These are significant, awful allegations and, if true, a disgusting and unforgivable violation of patient rights,” Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, wrote. “The state of New Mexico is investigating whether this constitutes a CMS violation and will unequivocally hold this hospital accountable.”

CMS, or the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, regulates hospitals to ensure that all patients have access to medical care.

State Auditor Brian S. Colón also weighed in, with a Facebook post commenting that Lovelace “has some additional explaining to do.”

A Lovelace spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a voice message and email Saturday. In previous statements, Lovelace acknowledged screening patients by geographic area, but it said that such practices followed guidelines from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was not immediately clear whether the policy described by clinicians remained in place on Saturday.

The CDC doesn’t mention geography in its COVID-19 guidelines for pregnant women. It specifies that pregnant patients should be treated as people under investigation for COVID-19 only if they exhibit symptoms or have had recent high-risk contact with COVID-19 patients.

According to several Lovelace clinicians, when pregnant women showed up at the hospital who appeared to be Native American, staff members were instructed to compare the expectant mother’s home ZIP code against a list of Indian reservation ZIP codes maintained by the hospital, known informally as the “Pueblos List,” a reference to New Mexico’s Pueblo Indian tribes. If the pregnant woman’s ZIP code matched one on the list, she was designated as a “person under investigation” for COVID-19 and tested even if she did not have symptoms, the clinicians said.

Several Native American tribes in New Mexico have been hit hard by the coronavirus, recording some of the highest per capita rates of infection in the nation. But not all of the ZIP codes on the list are home to tribes with high prevalence of the disease.

Lovelace did not use rapid COVID-19 tests, so it took up to three days for results to come back. During that time, the hospital separated some asymptomatic mothers from their newborns as part of an effort to prevent transmission of the virus from mother to child. Other Albuquerque hospitals are using rapid tests and do not separate Native American mothers from newborn children.

Such separations deprive infants of close, immediate contact with their mothers that doctors recommend.

“We had no knowledge of this practice happening,” Tripp Stelnicki, Lujan Grisham’s communications director, said Saturday.

The state Health Department has contacted CMS to determine how to proceed, Stelnicki said.

“The intent is to find out what ... is going on,” Stelnicki said. “And if indeed, if this has happened, it is extremely disturbing, and to rectify the position if there were CMS violations, those will be pursued.”

Bryant Furlow is a reporter for New Mexico In Depth.

HAVE YOU GIVEN BIRTH AT LOVELACE WOMEN’S HOSPITAL IN ALBUQUERQUE?

We’re reporting on birth and newborn care at Lovelace Women’s Hospital. We’d like to hear from you to help us understand your experiences. We appreciate you sharing your story, and we take your privacy seriously. ProPublica is gathering this information for our reporting, not for immediate publication.

This form requires JavaScript to complete.
Powered by CityBase.

Protect Independent Journalism

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that produces nonpartisan, evidence-based journalism to expose injustice, corruption and wrongdoing. We were founded ten years ago to fill a growing hole in journalism: newsrooms were (and still are) shrinking, and legacy funding models failing. Deep-dive reporting like ours is slow and expensive, and investigative journalism is a luxury in many newsrooms today — but it remains as critical as ever to democracy and our civic life. A decade (and five Pulitzer Prizes) later, ProPublica has built the largest investigative newsroom in the country. Our work has spurred reform through legislation, at the voting booth, and inside our nation’s most important institutions.

This story you’ve just finished was funded by our readers and we hope it inspires you to make a gift to ProPublica so that we can publish more investigations like this one that holds people in power to account and produces real change.

Your donation will help us ensure that we can continue this critical work. From the Trump Administration, criminal justice, health care, immigration and so much more, we are busier than ever covering stories you won’t see anywhere else. Make your gift of any amount today and join the tens of thousands of ProPublicans across the country, standing up for the power of independent journalism to produce real, lasting change. Thank you.

Donate Now

Latest Stories from ProPublica

Current site Current page