Con Alma Health Foundation congratulates this year’s heroes of health: Doug Meiklejohn, director of New Mexico Environmental Law Center in Santa Fe, and Lauren Reichelt, director of Rio Arriba County’s Health and Human Services Department.
“Both of our heroes have dedicated their lives to removing barriers people face in living healthy lives and working toward health equity in which every New Mexican has an equal chance at living a healthy life regardless of a person’s ethnicity, zip code or income,” said Dolores E. Roybal, Con Alma’s executive director. “We are grateful for Lauren and Doug’s tireless work to improve the health of New Mexicans.”
Meiklejohn founded the New Mexico Environmental Law Center, a nonprofit, public-interest law firm that provides free and low-cost legal services in 1987. He has spent 30 years giving voice to the poor and often predominately minority neighborhoods, towns and tribal communities at risk of becoming the waste dumps of New Mexico, wrote Juana Colon of the Law Center in her nomination letter.
Meiklejohn said he is honored to accept the Hero of Health award on behalf of everyone at the New Mexico Environmental Law Center. “This award is special because it recognizes that the health and wellbeing of all New Mexicans depend on equal access to clean air, water and land. The Environmental Law Center works every day to ensure that access,” he said.
Sheila Vigil, who nominated Reichelt, said before social determinants of health became well known and used by many leaders in the field, Reichelt was focused on the need to create a larger frame of reference when talking about health for Rio Arriba County. “For decades, she has dealt with the social determinants such as employment, education, poverty and others,” wrote Vigil of Rio Arriba County.
Reichelt credited the collaboration of Rio Arriba’s Health and Human Services Department and the Rio Arriba Community Health Council for working together to develop and carry out shared solutions to problems facing their county.
“As a result, Rio Arriba is a leader, developing health care reimbursement models that encourage providers to produce healthy clients instead of just treating diseases,” she said. “I am deeply gratified that Con Alma values the importance of advocating for all the members of our community at all times and bringing our communities together to solve problems.”
For each health hero, Con Alma donates $1,000 to a nonprofit of the hero’s choice. Con Alma will donate to Las Cumbres Community Services’ Grandparents Raising Grandchildren on behalf of Reichelt and to the New Mexico Environmental Law Center on behalf of Meiklejohn.
This year people across New Mexico nominated 24 individuals as possible heroes, including nurses, volunteers, doctors, healers, nonprofit directors and advocates for at-risk adolescents, health-care access, healthy-food access and minority populations.
Past heroes include Kim Posich, executive director of New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty; Vicki Johnson, creator of a home-visiting, educational program for first-time parents; Juliana Anastasoff, a health extension rural officer in Taos for the University of New Mexico; Chuck Howe, founder of the National Veterans Wellness and Healing Center in Angel Fire; Rebecca Palacios, who addresses health disparities by improving drinking water in the colonias and enhancing the diets of Mexican-American households; and Kristine Suozzi, a public health advocate with New Mexico Health Equity Working Group.