[Editor's Note: This is part four of the Grant County Commission work session on March 7, 2023, and the regular meeting held March 9, 2023. This one completes the presentations and reports that took place at the regular meeting.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

In the review of the Grant County Commission regular meeting on March 9, 2023, at the work session on March 7, 2023, County Manager Charlene Webb noted presentations.

The second presentation, which was made at the regular meeting, was the annual Grant County Extension Service programmatic efforts and impacts report by Jessica Swapp-Massengill and Lauren Baker.

Swapp-Massengill said she has so far served seven years at the Grant County Extension office as ag agent and 4-H agent and is now county director. She introduced Baker and said she comes from CSU-Pueblo. "She is the right fit for the family and consumer services agent position."

She said Baker is certified in four counties for food manager testing and is teaching food certification.

Baker said the first course she taught was the Germ Detective course, to elementary school student. It teaches the proper way to wash hands. Swapp-Massengill with a special flashlight checked the commissioners' hands and showed them where they hadn't washed well. "We are sticking with elementary schools in Silver City, Bayard and Cliff at this point, but we have been asked to come back to talk to the high schools." Future programming that Baker said she is "excited" to begin includes Mind Matters for those who have suffered trauma; Kitchen Creations for those with diabetes; Living with Chronic Disease; 4-H baking classes; 4-H Cloverbud educational programs; and collaboration with other local organizations, such as the library and schools.

Swapp-Massengill presented her agriculture agent report, which she said in Grant County falls into two major categories, livestock production and profitability and urban horticulture and food insecurity. She noted that New Mexico gross income from cattle and calves totaled $1.07 billion in 2021, even with total inventory in the state falling by 8 percent since 2018.

She said the single biggest source of losses on livestock operations is reproductive failure. That's why she developed two cattle producer programs designed to address the concerns of profitability. One program provides education to producers and employees on prepartum cow management, and post-partum management for healthy cows and calves, as well as proper techniques for intervention for their cow herds to cut operating expenses. The second program focuses on Beef Quality Assurance Certification, including cow/calf vaccination protocol, proper techniques during spring works, crew safety and efficiency and the impact of calving distribution on herd profitability. She reported that 51 producers attended the programs and were evaluated, with 100 percent saying they increased their understanding of pre-partum and post-partum cow management, as well as vaccination protocols and impacts on herd profitability.

On the urban horticulture and food insecurity issues, Swapp-Massengill said the average annual food-at-home prices had risen 3.5 percent in 2021 over 2020, with the increase being 75 percent above average in the 20-year historical level of retail food price inflation, which was 2 percent.

Also, according to USDA reports, more than 10 percent of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2021. In 2019, 12.4 percent of senior-aged New Mexico citizens faced food insecurity, according to Feeding America, 2021. The rate in Grant County is even higher at 15.3 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau 2021 report states that 18 percent of Grant County residents are below the poverty line. In 2021, the highest percentage of the population, 29.5 percent is over the age of 65.

Because of a study showing that home gardeners save on average $92 a month, Swapp-Massengill developed two programs. The first is Gardening 101, which taught garden planning, soil preparation, how to identify different soil types, basic garden planting, how to test seed germination, variety selection, irrigation methods, companion planting, as well as small plot and container gardening.

The second program, Compost in a Bucket, taught basic composting, balance of carbon/nitrogen, items that can be composted versus those that cannot. Participants brought their own bucket and some items to compost. The extension office also provided materials for composting, so participants went home with their own started compost in a bucket. Thirty-seven residents attended the programs, and 100 percent reported increase in their knowledge of soil preparation, how to identify soil types and understanding basic composting.

Swapp-Massengill's next report addressed her job as 4-H agent. She said 4-H programming falls into two major categories—adult volunteer development and youth development.

She explained that volunteers must be recruited, screened, selected, oriented, trained, supervised, evaluated and recognized. "Our adult volunteers provide a significant amount of direct contact with 4-H youth and are essential partners in the 4-H youth development program for maintaining and expanding the 4-H program.

Again, she developed a program for adult leaders on how to perform needs assessment within their clubs for programming needs, financial record keeping, club member retention and recruitment.

4-H youth development addresses the issue that only 35 percent of U.S. 4th graders, 33 percent of 8th graders and 20 percent of 12th graders are proficient in science. In the 2019 school year, only 40 percent of New Mexico's students in 4th, 7th, and 11th grades were proficient in science. "Students need to develop their capabilities in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) to levels much beyond what was considered acceptable in the past."

Swapp-Massengill noted that junior livestock projects through 4-H can provide connections between what students learn in school and how it applies in the real work. Students are able to gain hands-on science education through the use of workshops, clinics and contest practices to learn the different digestive and skeletal systems of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. They learn how to keep their show stock healthy and how to keep accurate records of the livestock projects, increasing their mathematical comprehension as well.

In additional information, she said that as of April 2022, she was awarded by NMSU, NM Cooperative Extension Service and the Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Science (ACES) College a promotion to the rank of associate professor with tenure. "This process required documentation of all my programmatic efforts over a six-year span. It is a prestigious ranking among my peers and a difficult goal that not all agents are able to achieve."

She also listed challenges as cooperative extension services across the country and in New Mexico are struggling with extension agent retention. Low salaries, downsizing and increased workload were identified as negative factors.

"We truly believe in the programs that we do and the impact that they make in our community's lives," she said. "We invite you, your families and your friends to take part in the impactful programming that the extension office offers."

District 5 Commissioner Harry Browne thanked Swapp-Massengill and Baker for the programs they offer. He also asked Swapp-Massengill if she was aware of the seed library. She replied she is aware of it and even brings seeds in from Cliff.

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked about the Mind Matters program. Baker said she will reach out to La Plata Middle School and Cliff Schools, too. "I also want to offer it to adults."

In the following report at the regular meeting, Gila Regional Medical Center Chief Financial Officer Patrick Banks gave the presentation. He apologized that he was not the new Interim Chief Executive Officer Margie Molitar, because she was unable to be there that morning, but "I will give some remarks after the financial report."

"I will start my financial report, which is for the end of the month of January, with days of cash on hand," Banks said. "This month we stand at 105 days of cash on hand as compared to the previous month at 106. Last year, we got up to 129. Cash on hand is our No. 1 financial metric, which shows that we are paying our bills and we are solvent. The reason we are down several days is that the investments in the hospital that we made have not yet been recouped from grant funding."

He also presented the key financial data, beginning with operating revenue, which for the month of January 2023, stood at $6.55 million, with year-to-date at $129.258 million compared to last year-to-date at $116.714 million. He noted an operating loss at -$261,000, but a net surplus at $607,000, compared to a net surplus year-to-date of $5.033 million compared to last year-to-date of $1.367 million.

Banks said the hospital at this time is training 13 nurses, who are graduates of the Western New Mexico University Nursing School, and some are locals, "that we hope will stay."

Ponce said he appreciated hearing about the days of cash on hand.

Banks noted that the hospital governing board meetings are open to the public.

"On behalf of Margie, who I don't believe has been formally introduced to the country, could not be here today because of her travel schedule," Banks said. "I've been able to work with her for about a month now. She has an open, direct style. It takes about five minutes to appreciate her humor and her incredible experience. It makes me excited to work with her as my boss. I am confident the hospital is in good hands."

He showed a photo of her, as well as a photo of the Chief Nursing Officer Melanie Vigil, who is moving with her husband and three kids to Pueblo, Colorado this month to take advantage of a position that he was offered. "She would stand here and give all the credit to her team, She's not here, so I can say that her leadership has been a huge part of our success over the past year. We wish her all the best. Cynthia Lewis just joined us as the Interim CNO. She has amazing experience, including in New Mexico, as a CNO. She has had some overlap time with Melanie. She has a strong leadership team under her. While I'm talking about people, we did an Employee Appreciation Day last Friday. We got new T-shirts, so if you see someone around town, be sure to express your appreciation. I won't be able to talk to you later this month, but I want to tell you that March 30 is National Doctor's Day. It's a time to reflect on the fact that these folks spend a ton of time getting educated, a ton of time on call, and pour their hearts and souls into keeping us healthy. So, on March 30, if you happen to see a doctor, we would encourage you to express your appreciation."

The next article will continue with the review of the regular meeting agenda, with county reports and business items.

For the previous articles, please visit https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77046-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-march-7-2023-part-1; https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77082-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-march-7-2023-part-2; and https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/77157-grant-county-commission-work-session-held-march-7-2023-part-3 .

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