March is Women’s History Month: an annual celebration that recognizes and celebrates the contributions of women throughout the nation’s history. Women continue to be the backbone of our society, leading the fight for social justice. Whether it is gender justice, reproductive rights, advocacy for LGBTQI+ equality, domestic violence, or the many other issues women advocate for, let’s lift those voices up.
In celebration of International Women's day, we are highlighting Women of Impact in New Mexico - these women have been nominated by someone that is close to them and wants to lift and recognize their hard work and dedication.
Debbie Armstrong, BS, JD; President, Delta Management Group; Senior Advisor, NM Medical Insurance Pool
While I have been fortunate to have had several women of impact in my life both in India where I grew up and, here in New Mexico where I currently reside, I would like to highlight Debbie Armstrong as one such woman.
I met Debbie several years ago when our paths crossed owing to our shared interest in ensuring the availability of all legal options for New Mexicans, concerning end-of-life decision making. As a health care professional herself – both as a physical therapist for 25 years, as well as, serving in state government for 3 years as Director of The New Mexico Aging and Long Term Services Department – and then, until most recently, as a representative for the past eight years in the state legislature, Debbie has worked unceasingly to make healthcare more equitable, affordable and accessible to our state’s residents.
As stated in the July 15th, 2022 Los Alamos Daily Post, “Rep. Armstrong has been at the helm of some of the most high-profile and important legislation of the past decade, including the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act, the establishment of both medical and adult-use cannabis programs, the repeal of New Mexico’s antiquated abortion ban, and the Healthcare Affordability Fund, which lowered healthcare costs and expanded access across the state.
She also championed health coverage for contraception, quality senior care through the Kiki Saavedra Senior Dignity Fund, and affordable healthcare and prescription drug coverage through the Health Security Act and the Wholesale Prescription Drug Importation Act."
What about Debbie inspires me? It is no secret that during the several attempts to get the Elizabeth Whitefield End-of-Life Options Act passed in the NM legislature, Debbie’s daughter Erin – herself a staunch healthcare advocate in her role as an attorney – was dealing with a recurring cancer. Erin in fact was a courageous witness who testified for the need to have the legal option of medical aid in dying as yet another choice for people at the end of life. During hours of emotionally draining hearings, Rep. Armstrong held firm and resolute in supporting this choice for ALL New Mexicans. Watching her fortitude during these hearings was truly inspiring and moving. Based on her first-hand knowledge of the state’s rural nature, vast distances and shortage of physicians, Debbie ensured that the law included several innovative provisions whilst, also incorporating strict safety guidelines to protect patients, families and clinicians. One such innovation is a provision that addresses access issues by authorizing licensed Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants to prescribe the life-ending medication. NM is a first in this regard and states like California and Oregon are now looking to amend their statutes to reflect the NM law. For this work, she was most recently awarded the Golden Angel award at their annual conference by the American Clinicians Academy on Medical Aid in Dying.
As someone whose career was in healthcare and being well aware of the difficulties patients and their families confront on multiple fronts, the impact of these significant humane contributions by Debbie Armstrong, I know have helped to alleviate the personal situations of countless of our fellow New Mexicans across the life spectrum.
Anabel Canchola, Program Administrator in the Health and Human Services Department at Doña Ana County.
In her Doña Ana County role as Program Administrator, Anabel collaborates to apply for grants that bring impactful programs to un- and underserved residents. Then she administers their implementation, monitoring progress, reporting to grantors, managing vendors and leading teams.
It is in this aspect of her role that Anabel truly shines. The teams she leads are a combination of County workers, volunteers and representatives from other agencies, ranging from community health workers or promotores to U.S. congressmen field representatives and researchers from New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico and University of Texas at El Paso. In any team, it is no small task to inspire and promote volunteer and proactive action. Through caring interactions, thoughtful guidance and a lot of extra work she takes on, Anabel is one of those people who can lead these diverse teams to make anything happen.
Most recently, she was instrumental in shaping a CDC and OMH COVID-19 response grant which aims to identify gaps and implement or support programs to fill those gaps, increase COVID safe practices, reduce case numbers and increase community resilience to address long-term COVID impacts. The Doña Ana County HHS Department received more than $4.3 million in grant funds to support this effort. Programs implemented enable expanding health literacy and outreach needed to a community grossly underserved, which is already all the responsibility a person can take.
But Anabel consistently makes the effort and takes the time to do more. She went the extra mile to ensure that needed CHWs received helpful training and that they received CEU credits and got paid for their participation. Time and again the work women do is taken for granted and leveraged for free because promotores care about their community and focus on helping, sometimes neglecting monetary compensation. Anabel sees their work and recognizes a need to value the impactful work they perform and the significance of their efforts in the grant’s outcomes. When she shared with me that she had successfully ensured their payment, she looked and acted as if she herself were receiving the compensation. She simply cares.
Anabel also works with academia researchers to make the future is a brighter one for our community. She recently collaborated on two public health studies that will soon be published. One is on resilience among underserved communities during the pandemic; the other focuses on a trust-building model for conducting Covid-19 vaccination research in rural and other un- or underserved communities, both led by Lisa Cacari Stone, Ph.D.
When I first met Anabel, towards the beginning of the pandemic, she was trying to figure out how to get Wi-Fi to all the County community centers. That seemed to me unrelated to her health-focused role. She said she learned a Doña Ana Community College, DACC student was being reported to police and the County for “hanging” around a Community Center. It turned out he was trying to do homework and avoid falling behind when the school shut down. Anabel saw this as an example of what might be happening at a much bigger scale immediately and she got to work. She also helped that student personally, connecting him to resources and ensuring his success, for at least the next year. She met his parents and found resources to help them, too.
In 2019, she worked diligently to promote and coordinate training for Mental Health First Aid, a skills-based training course for participants to learn about mental health and substance use issues. She coordinated train-the-trainer workshops, expanding the number of instructors qualified to provide the training and therefore, the outreach into the community.
In 2014, prompted by the Affordable Care Act healthcare reform, she helped convert a disconnected referencing system into an online, shared platform to ensure indigent residents receive quality care and avoid falling through the system’s cracks. Clinics, hospitals and resource programs now have access to the platform and can perform a warm hand-off, provide continuity of services and follow up, connecting individuals to the resources they need, ranging from food to shelter and healthcare.
On a personal note, all one has to do is spend 15 minutes with Anabel to understand that she is a knowledgeable, caring, friend for life. For these and many other reasons, Anabel exemplifies what a woman who has impact on our community looks and acts like.