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NMSU honors public health heroes in Doña Ana County

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New Mexico State University’s Department of Public Health Sciences will present its sixth annual Public Health Heroes Awards throughout October, honoring several Doña Ana County leaders and organizations for their public health commitments, collaborations and contributions.

The presentation of the awards – initially planned for April during National Public Health Week – was delayed because of COVID-19 concerns and restrictions on large gatherings.

The department decided to move forward with the awards this month. Now, faculty members, along with College of Health of Social Services Interim Dean Sonya Cooper, are distributing the awards directly to the recipients, using COVID-19 safe practices.

“We honor the dedicated work of our unsung public health heroes with these awards,” said Cindy Kratzke, associate professor of public health sciences who organizes the awards.

“This year is different since we rapidly shifted our focus to COVID-19 in spring. We are going forward now to present these awards,” Kratzke added. “It is more important than ever now to continue working together as a community. We can’t let our guard down. Public health becomes visible every day with the practice of wearing masks and washing hands.”

Recipients for this year’s awards include:

Mountainview Regional Medical Center and Memorial Medical Center will each receive the Special Public Health Hero Award, an honor that recognizes each recipient for outstanding public health contributions in fighting the coronavirus pandemic and creating healthier communities. Derrick Cuenca, CEO of Mountainview Regional Medical, and John Harris, CEO of Memorial Medical Center, will each receive an award.

Roadrunner Food Bank and Aggie Cupboard will each receive the Community Organization/Program Public Health Hero Award, an honor that recognizes each recipient for providing excellent services and integrating the value of health into the community.

“The Aggie Cupboard saw a considerable increase in clients during March of this year. We had a 35 percent increase in client visits compared to the previous spring semester,” said Meg Long, director of Aggie Cupboard, NMSU’s food pantry that serves students and employees from the main campus and Doña Ana Community College. “The Aggie Cupboard was able to meet the needs of our clients through a dedicated volunteer crew and the immense support of the Las Cruces and NMSU community.”

Richard Coltharp, Jess Williams and Mike Cook, all of the Las Cruces Bulletin, and Fred Martino, of KRWG Public Media, will each receive the Community Leader Public Health Hero Award, an honor that recognizes each recipient for providing distinguished services to the community and significant contributions as a leader in the development of healthier communities.

“We’ve covered a wide range of issues related to COVID-19,” said Martino, director of content for KRWG. “We’ve talked with researchers about the ways the virus spreads and how to protect yourself. We’ve heard from mental health experts about social isolation and family dynamics during the lockdown. We regularly talk with doctors about how local hospitals and health care professionals are dealing with the challenges posed by the virus.”

The New Mexico Department of Health’s COVID-19 Team for the Southwest Region will receive the Rising Star Public Health Hero Award, an honor that recognizes the recipient for outstanding public health contributions in fighting the coronavirus and creating healthier communities.

For more information about the awards ceremony, contact Kratzke at 575-646-4516 or ckratzke@nmsu.edu.