This has been an exceptional year, not only for its challenges but also for the individuals who became heroes during a time of critical need because of COVID-19. In hospitals and clinics, people risked their lives to care for others. Teachers reworked lesson plans while administrators developed safety measures. Child-care providers enabled essential workers to stay on the job. Policy makers made tough decisions as restaurant owners supported their staff. Grocery workers stayed late for extra cleaning, and food-service staff kept kids from going hungry when schools closed. We appreciate their dedication to their profession, for their willingness to adapt during uncertain times.
Beyond that, New Mexico’s volunteers stepped up – they ran errands for their older neighbors, cooked for the sick, donated to the unemployed and stocked food at community pantries. We are blessed with these heroes throughout our state, in our cities and rural villages.
Jim Gannon, CEO of Catholic Charities, nominated the stranger that became a neighbor, inspiring us to honor them as well. “It is pretty obvious so many overlooked folks in our society became essential and necessary overnight in our communities,” he wrote. “Truly it is all of those folks who became our closest neighbor. Who risked health and their welfare for me, for you, for us.”
“Thank you to our 2020 hero of health recipient and nominees and to all of the heroes among us in our business, governmental, and nonprofit sectors. You remind us what’s possible when we put caring into action.” – Dolores E. Roybal, executive director of Con Alma Health Foundation
2020 Hero of Health Recipient:
Leroy “Buster” Silva, Pueblo of Laguna, community coordinator at Notah Begay III Foundation (NB3) in Santa Ana Pueblo
Simone Duran, program coordinator at NB3, nominated Silva for being “a passionate leader who loves to help communities create positive changes to live healthy, strong and resilient.” In her nomination letter, she wrote that he led a unique initiative with nine organizations to increase the number of Native American youth participating in physical activity and sports in Albuquerque.
“There isn’t a day where he doesn’t have a new idea of how to make better connections and include communities’ voices, no matter their background,” Duran wrote. “He has created his own movement where he shares stories from all over Indian Country about health and fitness.”
Silva’s philosophy is that everyone has an obligation to protect and nurture the wellbeing of communities. “As a team member at the Notah Begay III Foundation, I have been able to use my experience to rally community partners around one common goal — to create more opportunities for Native American youth via physical activity, healthy nutrition, youth development, and cultural connections — so that they can live happy and fulfilled lives. Da’wa’eh to all to my family, friends, and mentors: When I shine, You shine.”
The NB3 Foundation is a national, Native-led nonprofit in Santa Ana Pueblo that supports and funds Native-driven, culturally centered programs and provides opportunities for Native youth to live healthy, active lives.
“We are honored to recognize Leroy for making a significant difference in the lives of Native youth,” said Dolores E. Roybal, Con Alma’s executive director.
For more than 10 years Con Alma has recognized people who diligently work to improve the health of New Mexicans, and contributed to the nonprofit of his or her choice. This year Con Alma will donate $1,000 to the New Mexico Autism Society on Silva’s behalf. He chose the organization in honor of his late sister LeeAnn Silva, who advocated for people with autism after her 14-year-old son was diagnosed at a young age.
“I hope this donation helps bring comfort and happiness to families during this challenging time,” Silva said.
Con Alma usually honors the selected hero at its annual grantee celebration. This year, the foundation is recognizing Silva and all of the incredible nominees through a multimedia campaign involving print and social media.
“We always learn about so many people making amazing contributions to their communities, and this year we thought it was important to recognize every individual from the frontline health care providers who are working extra hard to care for COVID-19 patients to individuals who recognize and address health needs in their community,” Roybal said.
COVID-19 Hero Nominations:
Dr. Michael DeBernardi, PsyD, MS, CEO at Life Link in Santa Fe
Michael’s calm, insightful leadership was essential as he led Life Link to become one of the first agencies to pivot exclusively to telehealth services to continue serving clients during the pandemic. He kept staff spirits high with encouragement, gratitude and a new, innovative employee benefit.
David Elliot, education & emergency preparedness coordinator at Holy Cross Medical Center in Taos
David was instrumental in forming a partnership of private, business and government entities to identify and address unmet community needs at the beginning of the pandemic. A true leader, he secures needed resources, provides critical communication and champions a “mask up” campaign.
Elizabeth Muller and Priscilla Juarez, operations director and office supervisor at UNM School-Based Health Center Program in Albuquerque
They both kept clinical services available to more than 80,000 students after schools closed in March. Despite pandemic-caused disruptions, their steady, consistent guidance ensured that the program continued delivering the best in adolescent health care.
Tram D. Nguyen, RN at Paradise Urgent Care for Presbyterian Healthcare Services in Albuquerque
Tram has worked at a COVID-19 testing unit under all weather conditions for the past eight months, risking her life for her community, missing time with her children, and enduring such challenges as sleeping in her garage when she had symptoms and didn’t know if she was sick with COVID-19.
2020 Hero of Health Nominations:
Pamela Angell, CEO at St. Luke’s Health Care Clinic (Amador Health Center) in Las Cruces
Pamela creates a diverse and inclusive environment in the health center as it expands services. She is a great leader who cares for everyone in the center and community.
Victoria Baca, admissions intake and peer support specialist at Rio Grande ATP in Las Vegas
Victoria helps hundreds of addicts through the recovery process and openly shares her personal story of addiction, domestic violence and suicide attempts to people in recovery and at community conferences.
Glenys Carl, founder/executive director of Scott’s House Inc. in Santa Fe
Glenys has served the Santa Fe community since the early 1990s, first as a hospice nurse for patients with AIDS. She started a volunteer in-home caregiving program, trained more than 500 volunteer caregivers and opened a free volunteer hospice house.
Tina Cordova, co-founder of Tularosa Basin Downwinders Consortium in Albuquerque
For more than 15 years, Tina has been devoted to her work on behalf of the Consortium, advocating, researching and participating in public events to get New Mexicans included in the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act. She does all this work while also running her own business.
Shakera Crawley, outpatient therapist at Families & Youth Inc. in Las Cruces
Shakera serves youth at My Friend’s Place who have experienced trauma in their lives. Shakera’s gentle, kind approach makes youth feel safe and free to be themselves. She repairs their spirit, mends their heart and shows them they are worthy of love.
Jessica Delgado, Pathways to Hope program manager at HopeWorks in Albuquerque
Jessica provides compassionate and kind care to those experiencing homelessness, and domestic and sexual violence. She led the implementation of pandemic care packages for clients living on the streets and empowers and encourages her staff to implement best healthcare practices.
Brenda Dunn, program manager at New Mexico Lions Operation KidSight, Inc.
Brenda was nominated by professionals in Hobbs, Cuba and Las Cruces for ensuring students receive free eye exams, eyeglasses and surgery. She is kind, professional and eager to promote the NM Lions operation KidSight Program that enables students to see and reach their full potential.
Dr. Rebecca Evanko, volunteer at Wilderwood Equine Therapy and Rescue
Rebecca worked tirelessly to provide a therapeutic program to help autistic adults and veterans – two underserved groups in New Mexico — reach their full potential of a healthy life. Without salary, she has developed therapy curriculum, wrote grants and organized volunteer training.
Christopher Lara Jr., respiratory therapist at Memorial Medical Center in Las Cruces
Chris goes above and beyond to ensure excellent care for his patients. He assists his colleagues after his shift and is consistently learning more skills to help his patients and fellow employees.
Grace Vickers Lassiter, RN, at Mimbres Memorial Hospital and volunteer at Care Net Crisis Pregnancy Center in La Mesa
Grace is devoted to giving to others — through her fulltime job as well as her volunteer work. She’s spent many years supporting women at the Pregnancy Center, including when she was pregnant and studying for her RN degree. She consistently challenges herself to learn new skills.
Nancy Laster, assistant chief nursing officer at Lovelace Medical Center in Albuquerque
Nancy is a wonderful leader and joy to be around. She is incredibly creative, thinking outside of the box so her team and patients are safe and considered. She’s quick to respond to any need that arises, and ensures the highest level of nursing care as well a transparent communication.
Fatima McElveen, NP, medical director at Amador Health Center in Las Cruces
Fatima is the heart of Amador, a health-care clinic for the homeless and near homeless. During the pandemic, she has been a positive leader in times of crisis, coordinating COVID-19 testing and the center’s Rapid Response team as well as caring for patients in the clinic and community.
Lawrence Medina, executive director at Rio Grande ATP in Taos
Lawrence has been deeply committed to serving people with substance-use disorder for more than 20 years, partnering with others to enhance the systems of services. He has opened a detox center and established a hub where individuals and providers can access services.
Blanca Pedigo, clinic director for One Hope Centro de Vida Health Center in Albuquerque
Blanca works diligently to promote healthcare and ensure that uninsured, underinsured, immigrant populations have safe, affordable health care. During the pandemic, she has worked extra hard to connect with every clinic patient, so they get the care they need and are not isolated.
Jackie Perez, LCSW at Centro Savila in Albuquerque
A tireless advocate for immigrant rights, Jackie provides compassionate bilingual/bicultural care to Spanish speaking families. Her commitment to professionalism, collaboration and advocacy have helped build a healthier, more engaged and more equitable New Mexico.
Elais Ponton, BSN, RN, chief nursing officer at Nurses with Heart Home Care in Santa Fe
Elais is a gentle and loving soul who never tires of visiting and communicating with clients and families, ensuring their physical and emotional needs are met. When the pandemic first started, she assured clients they would receive comfort and expertise safely in their homes.
Melissa Roberts, RN, at Hobbs Family Health Center for Presbyterian Medical Services
Melissa has brought her passion and skills to hospice services, nursing homes, hospitals and clinics for more than 20 years. She is a leader, teaching medical-support staff. When half the clinic staff were quarantined, she performed all their duties efficiently, never compromising patient care.
Rosita Rodriguez, adult services program manager at Las Cumbres Community Services in Española
Rosita has fiercely advocated for equity of service for people with intellectual and/or developmental challenges, embodying Las Cumbres’ mission to help families connect and thrive. She’s never too busy to check on people who have trying medical conditions or unmanageable loss.
Julissa Rubio, CNA, at Mountain View Hospital in Las Cruces
Julissa is a smart, helpful, big-hearted person who always puts others before herself. She serves as her grandmother’s caregiver and cares for patients in and out of the hospital.
Gail Stamler, RN, certified nurse midwife at Cassie Health Center for Women in Silver City
Gail has protected and improved the health of women and infants in southwestern New Mexico for the past 33 years. A force of light and hope, Gail mentors student midwives and nurse practitioners, is active in community education and a passionate voice for disease prevention.
Tom Starke, board chairman of Santa Fe Recovery Center in Santa Fe
Tom has spent years helping other combat addiction. He is guiding the Center through a period of growth and challenges, leading every aspect of the Center’s expansion. He works on everything from high-level strategic issues to the smallest details, doing whatever is needed.