The Verdes Foundation medical cannabis education advocacy – Albuquerque Business First

See Correction/Clarification at end of article

In May, Albuquerque Business First revealed the companies that made our new Top 100 New Mexico Private Companies Awards.

Business First is highlighting a handful of companies that are new to the list this year.

Albuquerque-based medical cannabis dispensary The Verdes Foundation has a laundry list of efforts that have nothing to do with the plant. They’ve also made the cut for our Top 100 Private Companies List for the first time. Founders Rachael and Eric Speegle outlined their visions for the future.

"We’re here for New Mexico, we support New Mexico," Rachael Speegle said.

One of their most aggressive efforts has been giving back to the community.

The dispensary does "Community Fridays" where 10 percent of the day’s revenues are given to various grant recipients. Last year, Verdes gave over $153,000, according to the Speegles.

"Doing the right thing is good for business," Eric Speegle said.

The duo emphasized that they want their customers to feel like they are contributing to the community in a positive way by shopping at their dispensaries. They are also pursuing advocacy initiatives.

Eric and Rachael Speegle recently founded the New Mexico Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and are planning to host the third annual New Mexico Medical Cannabis Conference next spring. They said their key goals are to protect the medical cannabis program and be a voice for legalization efforts.

They are also looking to expand their production and retail efforts. They relocated to San Antonio Drive in October of 2017 and opened a Rio Rancho location in 2016, according to previous Business First reporting.

The Verdes Foundation brought in about $6.5 million in revenues in 2017 and expect to rake in around $7 million this year, according to Eric Speegle.

They also recently partnered with New Mexico medical cannabis company Southwest Organic Producers and will be managing 450 of their plants, as well as selling some of what they produce. Consistency is key, according to Rachael Speegle.

"Safe access means continual access," she said.

The company also is teaching its customers and community about cannabis. It regularly hosts an event called Lunch and Learn where physicians are invited to learn about the benefits of the plant. They have other arrangements as well.

"We are really special in creating the first cannabis nursing program," Rachael Speegle said.

Christiana Davis, a customer service representative, said they see a wide array of patients, both in age and prescribed ailment. Some of them have little or no knowledge about cannabis.

"We really take our time with those patients," Davis said.

The program will potentially be a joint effort between The Verdes Foundation and Central New Mexico Community College, but was originally spearheaded by Verdes.

To make sure those customers are adequately informed, The Verdes Foundation takes measures to ensure each employee knows a lot about their products.

General Manager Stephanie Corral said training takes anywhere between three weeks and two months.

The Top 100 Private Companies encompasses the top-performing independent companies, including wholly owned subsidiaries and nonprofits, that are based in New Mexico. Companies submitted their information by survey to be considered for The List of New Mexico Private Companies. The List is ranked by 2017 New Mexico revenue.

This new event will highlight the work of New Mexico’s private sector and will include lots of fun surprises and recognition, including the new Company of the Year Award.

Join us June 14 at the Albuquerque Convention Center as we celebrate the many companies thriving in New Mexico’s private sector.

The Top 100 New Mexico Private Companies Awards is sponsored by Bank of America and Meals on Wheels.

Medical Marijuana Companies

Ranked by Gross receipts

Rank Company name Gross receipts 1 New Mexico Top Organics – Ultra Health $4.88 million 2 The Verdes Foundation $4.60 million 3 R. Greenleaf Organics Inc. $4.18 million View This List

This article has been updated to clarify the partnership arrangement of The Verdes Foudation’s planned cannabis nursing program.

The Verdes Foundation has made several recent moves, many of which have nothing to do with their retail operations.

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Nursing homes in New Mexico rank at the bottom

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

At Princeton Place in Albuquerque, an unsupervised resident wandered outside the facility and was struck and killed by a vehicle, according to a 2016 federal report.

At Casa Real in Santa Fe, inspectors said in a 2016 report that eight residents were not given insulin on the schedule ordered by their doctor.

No compatible source was found for this media.

Still another report states that at Sierra Health Care Center in Truth or Consequences, a resident told inspectors in 2017 he was left unattended for hours until his colostomy bag began to leak.

“I had to hold (feces) in my hand,” said the individual, according to the report. “I finally started yelling. … I would like to get the care I feel I deserve.”

Such issues are among more than 2,217 infractions reported in New Mexico-based nursing homes in recent years, as shown by reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Princeton Place, Casa Real, and Sierra Health Care Center did not respond to requests for comment.

Nearly all the nursing homes in the state are Medicare- or Medicaid-certified. Reported infractions range from the relatively minor (failing to give adequate notice before switching roommates, not promptly delivering mail) to the potentially deadly (improper fire safety precautions, abuse of residents).

Of those 2,217 reported deficiencies, 115 are considered serious: rated a J, K or L on a severity scale of A to L, meaning that the problem creates an “immediate jeopardy to resident health or safety.”

An analysis by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica showed that of 74 Medicare- and Medicaid-certified homes located in New Mexico, inspectors reported serious deficiencies in 36 of them between 2015 and April 2018.

By that measure, New Mexico is the worst in the nation for serious deficiencies on a per-nursing-home basis, according to the analysis.

Nursing homes here have been fined $2.42 million between 2015 and April 2018 and had their Medicare and Medicaid payments suspended for compliance issues 44 times over the same time period.

A spokesman for the New Mexico Department of Health’s Division of Health Improvement said in a statement that the department “take(s) seriously our role to protect New Mexico’s elderly population.” There were 5,749 nursing home residents in New Mexico as of 2016, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The spokesman said the state conducts inspections of nursing homes every 12 to 15 months or when a complaint is received; the findings are then reported to CMS, which determines penalties and actions.

‘Very concerned’

The way some penalties are applied is likely to change soon.

As part of a Trump administration effort to relax regulations in the sector, CMS has announced it is changing an Obama-era rule. The shift will result in smaller fines for noncompliant nursing homes.

The changes have been criticized by advocates for the elderly and hailed by the industry, which argues the rules are burdensome and mean caretakers spend less time with their patients and more time on paperwork.

The industry association that represents nursing home in New Mexico claims that, in several respects, nursing homes here outperform the national average.

Jason Espinoza, the New Mexico Health Care Association’s executive director, said in a statement that New Mexico “does very well in eliminating physical restraint usage, reducing the use of antipsychotics and managing (urinary tract infections) through our infection control efforts.” He also said the association has a registered nurse on staff dedicated to working with individual facilities on quality improvement, among other initiatives focused on addressing deficiencies.

Still, a spokesman for the New Mexico Attorney General’s Office said in an email that the agency is “very concerned” about the status of resident care in the state.

The office is pursuing a civil case against two nursing home operators, Preferred Care and Cathedral Rock, who are accused of failing to provide basic services on a regular basis to residents at seven nursing homes in the state.

The AG’s Office spokesman said litigation is meant to be a deterrent against “other current operators that are not providing adequate nursing home care.”

Preferred Care and Cathedral Rock did not respond to requests for comment.

But Michael Parks, an attorney with the Albuquerque-based Senior Citizens Law Office, said that while regulators have long recognized problems within the nursing home system, they are forced to reckon with the reality of what closing any of those facilities would mean.

“In my judgment, there has long been a tension between some enforcement activities and the need to place patients in facilities,” Parks said.

It’s a tension, he said, that is only likely to get worse as the state’s population continues to age and the need for those facilities grows.

In addition to enforcement actions available to the AG’s Office, the state Department of Health can revoke a nursing home’s license.

By 2030, New Mexico will have the fourth-largest population in the country of people age 65 or older as a percentage of the overall population, according to a 2016 Legislative Finance Committee report.

A shifting landscape

In that report, the committee identifies several factors behind quality of care issues in New Mexico nursing homes, an issue it characterized then as a “growing concern.”

Specifically, the report notes that Medicaid has increasingly covered home- and community-based care options, leading to fewer nursing home residents with higher – and more expensive – needs. As a result, nursing home revenues are declining, and Medicaid and other patient revenues haven’t offset the rising costs of caring for more expensive residents, according to the report.

As of 2016, New Mexico nursing homes were also providing fewer overall staffing hours per resident compared to the national average and that of neighboring states. Higher staffing levels are correlated with better quality of care, according to the report.

Among recommendations made by the committee: Adjust the state’s Medicaid reimbursement system to account for changes in resident needs, and more closely track indicators like serious deficiencies and staffing levels.

A New Mexico Human Services Department spokeswoman said that after the legislative report was published, the agency met with the New Mexico Health Care Association and performed an analysis on the impact of a transition to a different reimbursement model, one that would weight more heavily the resource-intensive nature of caring for today’s nursing home residents.

“After considerable research, the department decided that it wasn’t fiscally possible,” said the spokeswoman in a statement.

However, she said the agency is working with managed care organizations to find ways to reward outstanding nursing homes, what she described as a “key goal” for the state’s Medicaid program, Centennial Care.

The department also implemented a 2.7 percent funding increase in the daily Medicaid reimbursement rate for nursing facilities in January, and in July they will get an additional increase of 1.84 percent.

A Department of Health spokesman said the agency has “created a strategic plan focused on improvements in the areas that will have the greatest impact on the health priorities in New Mexico.”

In an effort to improve Vida Encantada Nursing & Rehab in Las Vegas, N.M., Harvey Pelovsky, managing partner of parent company Rim Country Health, said the facility has “dramatically changed” many parts of its operation in recent years, including increasing staffing levels.

Vida Encantada has been cited by inspectors for 61 deficiencies since 2015, accord to federal data. And while Pelovsky said he’s confident those changes will mean better inspection reports in the future for the facility, he said systemwide reform will likely require a shift in state policy.

“I’d encourage people to educate themselves on the reimbursement issues, and educate their state legislators,” he said. “Nursing homes are an important part of the continuum of care. They shouldn’t be the weakest link.”

Four highly penalized New Mexico nursing homes

Data based on reports filed with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services between 2015 and April 2018 compiled by the investigative journalism organization ProPublica.

Name: Casa Arena Blanca Nursing Center

Location: Alamogordo

Among highest in state for: Serious deficiencies (nine). Inspectors have also found 67 total deficiencies at Casa Arena Blanca since 2015.

Response: “Though our facility has experienced challenges in the past, we are taking necessary steps to address them,” Jeffrey Adisam, Casa Arena Blanca’s administrator said in a statement. “Everyone associated with our facility remains committed to providing the highest level of compassion and care to our residents, and we look forward to improved surveys in the future.”

Name: Casa Real

Location: Santa Fe

Among highest in state for: Total deficiencies (101). Of those, inspectors found five serious deficiencies. The home was hit with $122,867 in fines and three payment suspensions from Medicaid or Medicare in the past three years. It is also a “special focus facility,” a federal designation given to nursing homes that have “a history of serious quality issues.” Casa Real is listed in a recent CMS report as a facility that has shown improvement.

Response: Casa Real directed a request for comment to its parent, Texas-based Preferred Care Group. Preferred Care did not respond to a request for comment.

Name: Good Samaritan Society — Manzano Del Sol

Location: Albuquerque

Among highest in state for: Fines ($220,214). Manzano Del Sol has also had two payment suspensions since 2015.

Response: A spokesman for the facility’s parent company, Good Samaritan Society, said in a statement that Manzano Del Sol is committed to “addressing issues raised by the New Mexico Department of Health surveys.” He also noted the nursing home recently received an award as part of a national program that sets “specific, measurable targets to further improve quality of care in America’s skilled nursing centers and assisted living communities.”

Name: Mission Arch Center

Location: Roswell

Among highest in state for: Payment suspensions (four). Mission Arch Center has also been fined $177,077 and was cited for seven serious deficiencies in the past three years.

Response: A Mission Arch Center spokeswoman said the facility is “committed to providing high-quality care to our patients and residents” and supports the mission and quality initiatives of the New Mexico Health Care Association, of which it is a member.

What you can do
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Nursing Home Compare website ( has detailed information about Medicare- and Medicaid-certified facilities. ProPublica’s Nursing Home Inspect ( allows users to search through federal inspection reports by location, nursing home name, or search term. Michael Parks, an attorney with the Albuquerque-based Senior Citizens Law Office, says there’s no replacement for an on-site visit. “Everyone says, ‘See how it smells,’ but it’s true,” he said. He also said witnessing something like a group of residents slumped over in their wheelchairs could speak to an overuse of medications to keep an individual docile, or possibly other abuse. To register a complaint about a nursing home, contact the state’s long-term care ombudsman. The number is 1-866-842-9230 in Albuquerque and northwestern New Mexico; 1-866-451-2901 in Santa Fe and northeastern New Mexico; and 1-800-762-8690 in Las Cruces, Roswell and southern New Mexico.

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Program fights child abuse by providing a stable home

Carlotta and Jeremy Preece were living with their toddler C.J. and teenage daughter in the Tewa Motor Lodge for more than a year when Children, Youth and Families came knocking to investigate an allegation of neglect. (Don Usner/Searchlight New Mexico)

Room No. 30 in the Tewa Motor Lodge was the only home 3-year-old C.J. Preece had ever known.

The $30-a-night motel, on a seedy stretch of Albuquerque’s east Central Avenue, was what her parents could afford. The Preeces were struggling with drug and alcohol abuse when, in 2015, a caseworker from the Children, Youth and Families Department knocked on their door to investigate an allegation of neglect.

“I was really mad,” recalls her mother, Carlotta Preece. “I mean, CYFD came to the motel room and I snapped at them. They asked me, ‘What do you want?’ I said, ‘I need a home.’ ”

They got one, thanks to “Keeping Families Together (KFT),” a pilot project that addresses the intersecting problems of homelessness and child abuse and neglect. It is the first time New Mexico has turned to housing as a tool to reduce the state’s longstanding epidemic of child abuse.

The idea comes by way of New Mexico Appleseed, an Albuquerque think tank that estimates that 16,000 homeless children reside in New Mexico, placing the state among the 10 worst in the nation. That figure, combined with statistics that 72 percent of mothers and 47 percent of fathers who lose their children to foster care are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness, convinced state officials the program had merit.

When New Mexico decided to invest $2.9 million of federal funding in KFT, child advocates and policymakers asked the following questions: Could a roof over their heads, and ancillary services such as drug treatment and therapy, help keep families together? More importantly, could a home be enough to keep a child safe from abuse and neglect?

Three years later, the answer is a tentative yes.

KFT has provided stable housing for 86 families and 267 children in Bernalillo, Valencia and Doña Ana counties. It has prevented dozens of kids from ending up in foster care. It has also reduced the incidence of repeat abuse and neglect by two-thirds among those families who participated in the program for at least a year, according to Albuquerque Heading Home, the nonprofit that CYFD contracted to run the pilot program.

“It’s the first initiative that I have found in New Mexico that truly addresses housing instability as a root cause of child maltreatment,” says Jenny Ramo, Appleseed’s executive director. “When you do not have adequate housing – whether you are in a motel, your car or a house with too many families – you are significantly more likely to abuse or neglect your child.”

But when the KFT program ends in June, some 44 families will be dropped – including the Preeces. And while CYFD plans to continue the program under a new contract, the agency is now grappling with how to learn from the problems evident in the pilot.

Among them: Far too many families were placed in housing they will never be able to afford on their own; overwhelmed caseworkers were unable to provide the attention required by needy clients; the “permanent” housing recommended by Appleseed turned out to be merely temporary, potentially destabilizing fragile families.

What’s more, Appleseed, CYFD and Heading Home – in other words, the think tank that promoted the idea, the state agency that administered the contract and the nonprofit that ran the program – still don’t agree on either the mission or its methods.

“This isn’t permanent funding and this isn’t permanent housing,” says Emily Martin, who manages the program for CYFD.

Ramo argues that misses the point: “If there is a pie chart of these families, some percentage are never going to support themselves. They will go back to where they came from and start again with the problems and the expenses.”

There is a potential cost savings, says Ramo, but the bottom line is that “these children deserve a safe place to go to sleep at night.”

A place to call home

When the Preece family moved out of the Tewa Lodge and into a three-story townhouse in a gated community in the Jackson neighborhood of Albuquerque, the first thing C.J. did was number the bedrooms 1, 2, 3: one for her parents, one for her teenage sister, and one just for her.

Now, two-and-a-half years of life-changing stability are about to come to a halt.

Carlotta has medical issues that keep her from working. Her husband Jeremy, sober for eight months, brings home $600 every two weeks as night manager at a busy Mexican restaurant. At $1,210 a month, their three-bedroom townhouse is way beyond their means.

A family portrait on the fireplace mantle shows C.J. smiling in a holiday dress with her parents and sister. The girls have been doing well, says Otero, their caseworker.

Sitting on her couch in a tidy, carpeted living room with a big-screen TV, Carlotta nods at the family portrait in pride-of-place on the fireplace mantle.

But she is worried about the future.

“I don’t want to go back to where we started,” she says.

Jeremy agrees: “I’ve had a little taste, and I don’t want to go back, you know what I mean?”

Blocking the path to foster care

Traumatic for children and expensive for the state, foster care is almost always a decision of last resort. A single placement costs about $21,000 a year, while a case of maltreatment that ends in adoption costs an estimated $107,000, according to CYFD. Altogether, the state spends $145 million a year in state and federal money on the problem of child abuse and neglect.

The KFT program is comparably cost-effective: Including the price of rent, utilities and a caseworker, housing a family runs the state between $14,000 and $19,000 a year, according to Heading Home.

“If we can keep the family together safely, we want to keep the family together,” says Martin.

In 2014, the Legislative Finance Committee reported that New Mexico spends less than most states per capita to prevent children from ending up in foster care. The report recommended that CYFD recalibrate its focus to prevention. But since then, some preventative services that have shown results have been abandoned; others, like KFT, haven’t been scientifically tested.

Meanwhile, the number of kids in foster care has risen 44 percent over the past five years to about 2,600 from about 1,800.

The consequences of not investing in families early can be devastating. A Searchlight New Mexico investigation found widespread abuse in the state’s residential treatment foster care system, where the most troubled kids end up.

Homelessness itself is not tantamount to child neglect, but it is a significant stressor for families. A University of Chicago report, “Families at the Nexus of Housing and Child Welfare,” finds that “addressing housing needs of homeless or precariously housed families may eliminate the risks to children’s health and safety.”

Families that participate in KFT have access to a wealth of resources: workforce training, help applying for public housing vouchers, gas and grocery assistance, mental health counseling and drug rehabilitation.

The program doesn’t force parents to take advantage of the opportunities. But for those who do, the barriers to success for some are still too high. Parents who want to work may not have a high school degree or a car. For mothers who have several young children, the cost of childcare may be burdensome. Other, drug-addicted parents are struggling to get clean – or may not be trying.

As far as the program is concerned, the parents’ success isn’t what matters most.

“The focus really is on the children,” says Dorothee Otero, Heading Home housing director. “We want to prevent children from being placed into foster care.”

Some 72 percent of mothers who lose their children to foster care in New Mexico are either homeless or on the verge of homelessness.

A crushing reality

Susan Wells, a KFT caseworker, crisscrosses Las Cruces juggling the complex needs of 20 families – nearly 100 people including the children. She checks in with a couple who are kicking heroin addiction while raising a 3-year-old daughter, then visits parents who recently got their six kids back from CYFD custody after they managed to beat a destructive meth habit.

As the program winds down, Wells has been struggling to find options for families who were placed in housing they can’t afford. Rocío Valenzuela, a mother of five, breaks down at her kitchen table as the caseworker explains the reality that’s about to hit: She has to move.

“What people need in terms of housing first is a dependable living environment that they can afford on their own at some reasonable point,” Wells says.

The next contract CYFD awards may address housing affordability and caseload; the request for proposals hasn’t yet been released.

Valenzuela’s rent is $1,200. She recently lost her minimum-wage job as a maid for a national hotel chain. Her children are now 12, 11, 9, 6 and 5. She doesn’t have a car.

“I tell the kids we’re going to try to have good memories,” Valenzuela says, wiping tears. “This is the only time you’ll ever live in a house like this. You know, we can’t afford it. That way you can say, ‘I lived in a two-story house once.’ ”

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ABQ demand for large office spaces is strong, CBRE report says – Albuquerque Business First

First-quarter demand for office space in the Albuquerque market was almost 20 percent lower than the five-year quarterly average despite growth in office-using jobs, according to a report compiled by real estate investment firm CBRE.

But first-quarter vacancy statistics were partially skewed by two large tenants relocating to buildings not classified as offices or not tracked by CBRE, the report noted.

The office sector in the Albuquerque metropolitan statistical area added 2,900 net jobs in the year ending in January, a 1 percent increase year-over-year. Demand for large office space is expected to remain strong for the rest of 2018, especially in the education and business services industries.

Vacant space in Class A buildings, the most-desirable, premium office spaces, remained at a record low for first quarter 2018.

Leasing activity in the first quarter included about 151,000 square feet of office space. The overall vacancy rate stood at 20.4 percent. The $15.59 per square foot gross median asking rate was up $0.09 from a year ago. No significant rent growth is expected in the coming quarters.

The median asking lease rate for Class A buildings fell by 1.9 percent from last quarter to $22.94, while the Class B rate rose slightly from $18.25 last quarter to $18.50 this quarter. The Class C rate remained unchanged quarter-to-quarter at $14.50.

During the first quarter, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services downsized and vacated almost 35,000 square feet to relocate to a 17,000-square-foot industrial R&D/flex building, and New Mexico Mutual vacated 31,000 square feet of leased space to move into its own newly-built 58,000-square-foot office building. Brown Mackie College also vacated more than 43,000 square feet.

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Forgotten New Mexico development is a haven for dumping | Miami Herald

It was supposed to be a planned development aimed at giving residents a taste of the desert of the American West, in all its peace and natural beauty.

Instead, an isolated, unincorporated area northwest of Albuquerque has become a harbor for illegal shooting ranges and the disposal of stolen cars, old appliances and even bodies.

The land known as Rio Rancho Estates, once envisioned as place for upscale homes, is a popular spot for illegal dumping, the Albuquerque Journal reports . That’s because of easy access provided by about 660 miles (1,060 kilometers) of well-maintained dirt roads, Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Keith Elder said.

He says almost 40 percent of all stolen cars that were recovered throughout the county last year were found within 21 square miles (54 square kilometers).

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Since August, the bodies of two slain Albuquerque residents have been left in the barren area.

The land also is used for legal and illegal recreation. ATV riders zoom around curves and hills, and gun enthusiasts empty their rifles at makeshift targets.

Officials say around 1,200 people live in the area, based on a 2010 estimate of more than 500 homes in the area. Many live in mobile homes and trailers, mainly powered by generators and with wells or storage tanks for water.

The county doesn’t have a specific plan to develop the area as it envisioned decades ago.

Although the barren expanse is largely ignored by the public on a day-to-day basis, it has cropped up in the news and in court documents related to two murders out of Albuquerque in the past eight months.

One August evening, for example, detectives say two men and a woman drove a Chevy Silverado king-cab to an off-roading area to bury the mutilated body of a man they are accused of killing over a drug debt.

In mid-September, authorities found the body of John Soyka, 41, buried in a shallow grave off a wide, sandy road. Six months later, Albuquerque police crime scene tape remained ensnared in cactus spines at the scene.

Chase Smotherman and Mariah Ferry are charged in Soyka’s death. Their trials are pending.

Then, in January, another homicide investigation began about 5 miles (8 kilometers) southeast.

Sandoval County sheriff’s deputies found the charred body of Marilyn Gandert, 65, of Albuquerque on a mattress.

No one has been charged in her death.

Some days, gunfire is a near constant echo as recreational shooters risk fines or even jail time if they’re caught by law enforcement. Piles of shotgun shells and bullet casings cluster on overlooks and in shallow gullies.

Illegal shooting is one of the most common reasons Sandoval County sheriff’s deputies are called to the Rio Rancho Estates Area west of the city, officials said.

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