My ViewHealth, power, money, conscience

National Jewish Health, a Denver hospital specializing in pulmonary, cardiac and immune care that serves many New Mexicans, honored Pat Vincent-Collawn with a New Mexico Spirit of Achievement Award on May 18.

Vincent-Collawn is CEO of the largest single polluter in New Mexico, Public Service Company of New Mexico. Her leadership in fossil fuel and nuclear energy policies is a health tragedy for many New Mexicans.

As the parent of a child who lived all her life with chronic lung disease, I know how heartbreaking it is to see your child struggling to breathe. My daughter’s condition was genetic; I found peace of mind with knowing that hers was a “natural disaster.” The parents of those children whose medical conditions are caused by pollution from PNM’s archaic preference for mining and burning fossil fuels don’t have that balm. Their children are collateral damage in PNM’s profit strategies.

We’re lucky in Santa Fe, distant from the poisoned air, water and soil many New Mexicans inherit from coal emissions, gas, coal and uranium mining, and fracking. Everyone knows these technologies cause pulmonary disease, heart disease, cancer, infant mortality and other ailments. PNM has continued to aggressively invest in coal while most other U.S. utilities divest in this health-destroying industry. The American Lung Association gave San Juan County, home of the coal-burning plant that amassed 60,000 violations of PNM’s air-quality permit in just three years, an “F” in air quality. In the Four Corners, lands long held as sacred ooze a massive methane cloud contributing, NASA warns, to global warming.

So I asked National Jewish Health’s communications manager, Adam Dormuth, how could National Jewish Health choose to honor the person most responsible for all this? Through our conversation I understood: I was talking about health. National Jewish Health was thinking about money.

I sympathize. Our nation’s health care-for-profit format dictates that hospitals continually court donors or die. Vincent-Collawn’s award was given at a fundraising event hosted for New Mexico’s business community. She models “successful.”

Her “success?” Her current compensation is almost $4 million. From 2008 to 2014, PNM’s after-tax profits rose 461 percent; its stock price rose 194 percent. Meanwhile, those same years, rates for households rose more than 50 percent (PNM’s customers pay more for power than anyone else in the region). For those (over 22,000 in 2014) who can’t pay? PNM cuts off their electricity.

Add to this New Mexico’s coal-powered health care costs of $25 million to $60 million every year. Which makes me wonder: How many of National Jewish Health’s patients are its customers because of PNM’s pollutants? As a person of Jewish heritage, I’m appalled that an institution bearing this name appears to be rewarding the person who sends it business (in the form of disease-inflicted New Mexicans). Dormuth explained that Vincent-Collawn was being honored because she’s contributed to civic organizations and supports United Way. No good-doing can annul the harm her leadership at PNM produces.

It’s time we move on. Technology exists today for New Mexico to thrive with 100 percent renewable energy. Solar and wind cost less than fossil and nuclear. We have vast resources; New Mexico could be a major exporter of clean energy to other states, thereby replenishing our budget and providing many long-term jobs. Let’s become that, New Mexico. While we’re at it, let’s go for nonprofit, single-payer health care for all.

Cynthia Broshi practices and teaches Jin Shin Jyutsu acupressure, locally and worldwide.